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China to launch Mars probe in 2009

Piggybacked on Russia's Phobos-Grunt, Yinghuo-1 will be China's first planetary mission. Photo credit: The Plentary Society

HONG KONG (BNS): China will send its first space probe to Mars in October 2009 with the help of Russia, according to a Chinese newspaper.

An agreement on the joint exploration of Mars was signed between China and Russia on March 26, 2007, Beijing-based Xinjing Bao newspaper reported on Friday. The pact includes the launch of Chinese-made Yinghuo-1 spacecraft to explore the Red planet.

Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoting the newspaper said Yinghuo-1 and Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe would be sent together to Mars on a Russian Zenit rocket from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan. During the flight to the Red planet, the Chinese spacecraft will be attached to the Russian probe by an electric cable for in-flight power supply.

Giving details about the probe, the agency said in August-September 2010, after a voyage of up to 11 months, Yinghuo-1 will separate from the Russian probe and enter the Martian equatorial orbit. The spacecraft is expected to remain in orbit for a year.

"Yinghuo-1 will focus mainly on the study of the external environment of Mars. Chinese space researchers will use photographs and data to study the magnetic field of Mars and the interaction between ionospheres, escape particles, and solar wind," the report quoted a Chinese space official as saying.

China has been studying the necessity and feasibility of Mars exploration since early 1990s as part of its national '863 Planetary Exploration' project, the agency said.

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