CHINA / National

China plans 'KuaFu Mission' for Sun probe
Updated: 2006-07-20 10:52

As China steps up its lunar exploration, some scientists in the country are planning another space project, the "KuaFu Mission", aiming to study the activities of the Sun.

At the ongoing 36th Committee on Space Research Scientific Assembly, Tu Chuanyi, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the project, expected to be launched in 2012, will study the complex Sun-Earth system and improve the space weather forecast.

The mission will raise the standard of end-to-end observation of the Sun-Earth system, and advance scientists' understanding of the basic physical processes underlying space weather, said Tu, who is also a professor with the Beijing University.

Tu said the mission is designed to observe the complete chain of disturbances from the solar atmosphere to geospace, including solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), interplanetary clouds, shock waves, and their geo-effects, such as magnetic storms and auroral activities.

The name of the mission comes from an ancient Chinese legend of KuaFu, who tried to catch the Sun and enter it.

"The KuaFu mission may start at the next solar maximum, the year of 2012, hopefully, and with an initial mission lifetime of two to three years," Tu said.

He said the mission is composed of three satellites: KuaFu-A and KuaFu B1 and B2. KuaFu-A will be located at the Lagrangian point L1, the point stable with respect to gravitational forces between the Sun and the Earth, and have solar instruments to continuously observe the solar activities.

KuaFu B1 and B2 will be in polar Earth orbits that enable continuous observations of the aurora in northern hemisphere, which shows the influence of the Sun activities to the Earth, said the scientist.

The KuaFu mission is now at the comprehensive review stage, said Tu, adding that this study will be concentrated on a further review of the mission objectives and a further decision of the scientific payload.

At the same time, the Chinese space industry will conduct preliminary engineering studies on various technical elements, including satellite platform, launch strategy, tracking and control as well as data transmission system.

A dozen of leading scientists from Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Canada and other countries are expected to participate in the project.

William Liu, chief scientist of space physics and atmosphere science with the Canadian Space Agency, told Xinhua that the KuaFu mission is of great scientific significance and would reach the world leading level in this field.

If the mission is launched as expected, it will be the world's first space project systematically probing the Sun-Earth environment, he said.

Violent solar activities may cause malfunction of satellites, disturbance to the communication facilities on the Earth, and bring danger to the life safety of astronauts, Liu said.

The KuaFu mission may help predict solar activities and enable human to take measures to prevent damage caused by the solar activities, Liu said.

However, Liu said China still faces many technological problems to implement the KuaFu project.


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