China’s first Mars probe all set for October launch

June 9th, 2009 - 2:11 pm ICT by ANI  

New Delhi, June 9 (ANI): China’s first Mars probe, Yinghuo-1, is all geared up for launching to the Red Planet in October this year.

According to the scientist in charge of the probe’s design, the probe will have to stand the test of nearly nine hours in the freezing, dark shadow of the red planet during its one-year mission, which is the longest such period in exploration history.

During the 8.8 hour windows which occur in Yinghuo-1’s Mars mission, the solar panel cannot receive any sunlight for generating power, said Chen Changya, a researcher with the Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering.

“To conserve energy, part of the facilities on board will have to be switched off, and the probe will restart the facilities when the probe enters into sunshine,” Chen said.

Should anything go wrong, the orbiter could become “frozen” - like the United States’ Phoenix Lander, which froze on the surface of the planet.

Chen said that he is relieved after the 110-kg micro satellite managed to survive lab tests in February that strictly simulated the Mars environment - 260 C below zero in the dark.

His team has spent only 23 months on the satellite design, which typically takes three years or longer.

“After passing the research phase, Yinghuo-1 is ready to be transported to Moscow for compatibility tests, and will blast off atop a Russian launch vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in October,” Chen said.

Yinghuo-1 will separate from the Russian landing craft Phobos-Grunt after a 10-month journey and stay in a Martian orbit while the latter continues on to Phobos, the larger and the closer of the planet’s two moons.

Though China is relying on Russia for the launching, tracking and controlling of the micro-satellite, the Mars probe project is still regarded as a milestone that will take the country one big step further in deep-space exploration.

According to Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, “If Yinghuo-1 enters the preset orbit smoothly and works well, China will become only the fourth country or region that has ever succeeded in launching a Mars probe, following the United States, Russia and Europe.”

Its mission to explore the Martian space environment is also expected to fill in a blank in research, Pang said.

Other countries usually focus on looking for signs of life, the weather on Mars and geological research.

Yinghuo-1 is expected to provide clues as to whether the sun turned Mars dry by studying the relationship between oxygen molecules and solar winds. (ANI)

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