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China intends to launch its own research craft to Mars in 2013

November 10, 2011, 15:33 UTC+3
China intends to launch its own research craft to the Mars in 2013
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BEIJING, November 10 (Itar-Tass) — China intends to launch its own research craft to the Mars in 2013, the Chinese press reported on Thursday commenting on the failure of the Russian Phobos Grunt spacecraft.

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft launched from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Zenit-2SB rocket failed to reach a designated flying trajectory and remained on a support orbit, the head of the federal space agency, Vladimir Popovkin, said.

“The spacecraft got on for contact at once,” he said. “We searched it, its sustainer engine failed to work. There was neither first nor second ignition. Russia’s space control systems and similar systems of the United States searched the spacecraft on the orbit. Its fuel tanks have not been thrown off.”

After the separation from Zenit-2SB, the spacecraft was flying in a low Earth orbit and then after two ignitions of the sustainer engine it should have fired to the designated trajectory to reach Mars.

The spacecraft that should take rock and dust samples from the Martian moon Phobos and bring them back to Earth for study “entered a support orbit, the fuel has not been spent and we have three days for retargeting the program,” he said.

“The contingency situation emerged, but it is the operational situation. We foresaw it,” Popovkin said. “Now we are studying the telemetry.”

He supposed that the reason of the contingency situation is “that the flight control system failed to switch from the Sun to computing sensors.”

“We will study the telemetry and during the day will inform on the situation,” Popovkin said.

“China enhances chances for the ground base in order to start its own Mars project,” Huanqiu Shibao writes.

At present, China has no earth-based station, which is capable of giving a rather strong signal in order to reach the Mars, vice general designer of the Yinghuo Chen Changya told journalists on Thursday.

That is why China urged Russia to maintain cooperation in the Mars exploration, the Chinese official said. “By having the Changzhi rocket boosters, China can launch satellites to the Mars orbit. But it has no ground-based station in order to keep in touch with them,” Chen Changya said, adding that China “is now building such station.”

At present, China is working out plans to launch its own station to the Mars in 2013, the vice general designer stressed.

On November 9, Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe and China's Yinghuo-1 satellite were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Zenit-2SB rocket at 20:16 GMT. The main aim of the Phobos-Grunt is to bring back the first ever soil sample from Phobos, the largest of Mars’ two moons. The mission will also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one U.S. biological experiments.

Meanwhile, China's first Mars probe Yinghuo-1 will go into orbit around Mars and observe the planet itself. The Chinese probe, which will not land on Mars nor return to Earth, will stay permanently in space and communicate with ground control directly through satellites. The launch of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1, originally scheduled for October 2009 on a Russian carrier rocket, had been postponed until 2011 due to "technical reasons" on the Russian side.

Yinghuo-1, with a two-year lifespan, has its own scientific goals.

These include analyzing the planet's magnetic environment and ionosphere (upper atmosphere), taking images of topographical features and studying gravity fields on the Martian equator. The mission was set for October 2009, but later postponed to this year to enhance the reliability of the project. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Union have succeeded in landing probes on Mars. Five are in operation, four belong to the US and one belongs to the EU.

At least 21 probes sent to the planet have failed. The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology under the CASC, which designed Yinghuo-1 in 23 months, said that the satellite posed a major technological challenge as the furthest space destination for China before had been the moon. The moon's average distance from Earth is about 384,000 km. The distance between Mars and Earth, depending on orbits, ranges from approximately 55 million km to about 350 million km.

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