China is planning to send a rover to Mars to collect samples and search for alien life within the next six years.

Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the country's lunar project, said the Mars programme will focus on creating space probes on the red planet.

According to the Beijing Times, quoted by South China Morning Post, China's space agency plan to touch down on Mars by 2020.

It will look to collect its own samples over the next 10 years, while also looking for extraterrestrial life and determining if the planet is hospitable to life.

Ouyang was speaking at the International Planetarium Society Conference in Beijing, during which he gave time schedules for the mission.

China's space agency currently has the Jade Rabbit (Yutu) on the moon. It was the nation's first soft landing and roving exploration on the Moon. The mission was part of the Chang'e 3 expedition, which as well as landing on the moon was to develop and test key technologies for future missions.

Ouyang said another important goal of the Mars mission was to detect solar systems beyond Earth's reach and to compare the origins of earth-like planets with the formation of the solar system.

In potentially its most ambitious project, the space agency also hopes to recreate a planet based on information obtained through exploration.

Nasa is currently aiming to launch a manned mission to Mars by the 2030s.

However, Elon Musk, founder of the private space transport company SpaceX designs, has said he hopes to send humans to the red planet within the next 10 years.

"I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's certainly possible for that to occur," he told CNBC.