How far Chinese scientists will advance in deep space is not immediately
known. But one thing is certain: They will conduct exploration of Mars besides
the ongoing lunar mission.
"In the coming five years, China will, on the basis of its moon probes, plan
deep-space exploration, focusing on lunar and Martian exploration," Sun Laiyan,
chief of the China National Space Administration, said yesterday.
Sun's remarks at the 36th Scientific Assembly of Committee on Space Research
in Beijing appeared to be the first time a Chinese official has announced that
the nation's space programme would include Martian probes.
Sun did not elaborate on that part of the mission plan, however.
Long Lehao, a senior space scientist with the Chinese Academy of Engineering,
said yesterday that Chinese rockets were capable of sending a satellite to orbit
any planet, including Mars.
"If the government makes up its mind to start the mission to Mars now, I
think we could send an orbiter to Mars in three to five years," Long, also
director of the Science and Technology Committee of the China Academy of Launch
Vehicle Technology, told China Daily.
China's Long March rocket is capable of catapulting a 2.8-ton probe into
orbit around Mars, Long said.
By comparison, Chang'e 1, a probe that weighs 2.3 tons, will be launched next
year to circle the moon for 12 months.
Long said that what China has achieved in space exploration so far can be
combined with the expertise and experience to be accumulated in lunar missions
to help push the Martian programme.
But he added: "It is unnecessary to wait until after we have completed the
lunar mission to initiate the Martian programme. We could begin during the lunar
Following the launch of Chang'e 1 next year, China plans to send a vehicle to
soft-land on the moon and cruise around its surface around 2012.