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China A Step Closer to First Mars Mission

Apr 14, 2016     Email"> PrintText Size

No specific agenda for Mars exploration beyond 2020: space expert 

Chinese scientists have devised a mission to put a probe into orbit around Mars, a critical step in the country's ambition to land a rover on the red planet by 2020.

Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center has calculated the model and preliminary scheme, which were successfully reviewed by experts, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Daily reported on Tuesday.

The center has previously helped design the Shenzhou spacecraft, Chang'e moon probe and China's first space laboratory Tiangong-1.

"It's a demanding task for China to precisely send a probe into Mars orbit, as we have no experience so far, and modeling the orbit is crucial to Mars exploration," Jiao Weixin, a space science professor at Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

A Beijing-based scientist and expert on manned space flight, who asked for anonymity, told the Global Times Wednesday that the orbit calculation is critical for the launch, scheduled to be around 2020, since one launch window - proper timing for a launch when Earth and Mars are lined up - comes every 26 months.

Ye Peijian, an academician at the China Academy of Space Technology and chief scientist with the country's lunar probe mission, said in March that China aims to land a probe on Mars by 2020.

Jiao said that the altitude for deceleration of the orbiter and the time duration for deceleration will be calculated in the preliminary scheme, two factors that decide whether the orbiter can successfully enter orbit.

Gaining experience 

Experts agreed that China's previous space experience, including manned missions and the Chang'e lunar probe, is crucial to the Mars probe mission.

China is capable of sending a probe to orbit Mars and landing on the surface, Ye said, adding that the country has no problems with tracking control and communications technology, the Xinhua News Agency reported in 2014.

China's Yinghuo-1 Mars orbiter was launched in 2011 in Kazakhstan, as part of an inter-governmental cooperative program between China and Russia. The satellite was aimed at orbiting Mars for one year, but it failed due to an incident during orbital transfer.

Despite the failure, the cooperation has helped accumulate launch experience, the anonymous expert said.

He added that "China's adeptness in recovering inhabited spacecraft will enable the Mars orbiter to land," explaining the landing is similar to the process in which recovered spacecraft fall back to Earth.

In addition, a teleoperation platform will be developed, which will not only pave the way to landing on the far side of the moon, but also to landing on Mars and other extraterrestrial bodies, the PLA Daily reported Tuesday.

Much of the infrastructure is already in place. Two large ground control stations in Jiamusi, in Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province and Kashgar, in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region will enable China to conduct long-distance observation and control of spacecraft on Mars, Xinhua reported in 2014.

But so far, only the U.S. has the largest and most sensitive telecommunications system - NASA's Deep Space Network.

The anonymous expert noted that experience of controlling the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) moon rover on the lunar surface would be helpful in remotely controlling a Mars orbiter.

However, Jiao pointed out that Mars probes will demand much higher accuracy of China's telecommunication system since errors will be multiplied by the much longer distance between the Earth and Mars.

U.S. dominance  

While the U.S. leads the way in Mars exploration, the European Union, Russia and China sit in the second echelon, given that their three space agencies do not yet have enough financing in place to support the programs, the anonymous expert noted.

"Unlike manned spacecraft and moon probes, China has not drawn up a specific agenda for Mars exploration," the expert said, adding that the country's technology remains over a decade behind that of the U.S. (Global Times)

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(Editor: LIU Jia)

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