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China to launch nation's 1st Mars probe this year
Updated: 2009-05-28 17:57

SHANGHAI -- China's first Mars probe, Yinghuo-1, is expected to be launched in the second half of this year, an official of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) said Thursday.

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The probe had passed test of the research phase, Zhang Weiqiang, deputy secretary of SAST Committee of the Communist Party of China, told the third Shanghai International Aerospace Technology and Equipment Exhibition.

The event runs from Thursday to Saturday and includes a full-scale model of Yinghuo-1.

Yinghuo-1 will be launched by a Russian carrier rocket, accompanied by the Russian aerocraft Phobos-Grunt. The Russian aerocraft is making a sample return mission to Phobos, one of the moons of Mars, Zhang said.

Yinghuo-1 would go into Mars orbit in 2010 after a 10-month, 380-million-kilometer journey, Zhang said. But unlike the Russian craft, Yinghuo-1 won't land but would only orbit and observe, Zhang said.

The Chinese probe is 75 centimeters long, 75 cm wide and 60 cm high. It weighs 115 kilograms and was designed for a two-year life, according to Zhang. "Yinghuo" means light from firefly in Chinese.

Yinghuo-1 is expected to discover why water disappeared from Mars and explain other environmental changes of the planet, Zhang said.

The project is China's third major space exploration plan after the manned space project and the moon exploration program. It was also the first time that China would explore another planet, Zhang said.