Plans prepared for Mars probe

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-23 08:17
Large Medium Small

BEIJING - China has drawn up a technical plan for an independent Mars orbiter exploration project, space technology experts said.

Based on research conducted by the China Academy of Space Technology, the plan envisions a launch date as early as 2013, Huang Jiangchuan, a scientist with the academy, was quoted by Beijing-based Science and Technology Daily as saying at a forum on China's space technology on Thursday.

Related readings:
Plans prepared for Mars probe NASA's rover under tests before launched to Mars                           
Plans prepared for Mars probe China's second lunar probe completes first braking             
Plans prepared for Mars probe China's lunar probe set to reach orbit                                  

The Mars probe would weigh 1,040 kg and carry 110 kg of payload, he said.

It will be sent to an Earth-Mars transfer orbit first, and then fly about 10 months before entering an elliptical orbit around Mars. The whole Mars exploration will last one to two years, he said.

The government has not yet approved the project.

But Yang Baohua, president of the academy, was quoted by Guangming Daily as saying that a step-by-step exploration of the Red Planet is "no doubt the future trend and mission for China".

Ye Peijian, chief designer of the nation's first moon probe, told China Dailyover the phone on Friday that the technical plan does not represent the world's most advanced technologies in deep space exploration.

"But it will be the most reliable plan available which can help us achieve the goal in the shortest time," he said.

He said that China has proven its ability in spacecraft design through the two lunar satellites, Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2.

Together with a deep space network under construction and the progress in the launch vehicle system, China can target Mars now, he said.

The direct investment needed for this project will be less than the 1.4 billion yuan ($210 million) spent on Chang'e-1, he estimated.

To date, 41 exploration vehicles have been sent to Mars, but 21 of them have failed, said Pang Zhihao, a researcher and the deputy editor-in-chief of the monthly Space International.

The United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have all successfully sent Mars exploration vehicles. Japan also launched a Mars orbiter, Nozomi, in 2003, but the orbiter failed to enter the preset orbit and was lost.

"If China can succeed in sending its Mars probe into the orbit, it will be the fourth in the world to do so," he said.

But the number of failures has shown the great difficulty in reaching Mars.

The distance between Earth and Mars varies between 55 million and 400 million km depending on the orbit. The distance poses a big challenge for tracking and control experts to maneuver a Mars probe, and also places a great demand on the probe's ability in autonomous navigation and self-management, Ye Peijian said.

Besides, China plans to send Yinghuo-1, a micro-satellite, to Mars atop a Russian launch vehicle, which is set to blast off in 2011, sources close to the project said on Friday.

Xinhua contributed to this story.