CHINA / National

China to plan Mars probes in 5 years
By Zhao Huanxin (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-07-20 06:07

How far Chinese scientists will advance in deep space is not immediately known. But one thing is certain: They will conduct exploration of Mars besides the ongoing lunar mission.

"In the coming five years, China will, on the basis of its moon probes, plan deep-space exploration, focusing on lunar and Martian exploration," Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration, said yesterday.

Sun's remarks at the 36th Scientific Assembly of Committee on Space Research in Beijing appeared to be the first time a Chinese official has announced that the nation's space programme would include Martian probes.

Sun did not elaborate on that part of the mission plan, however.

Long Lehao, a senior space scientist with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said yesterday that Chinese rockets were capable of sending a satellite to orbit any planet, including Mars.

"If the government makes up its mind to start the mission to Mars now, I think we could send an orbiter to Mars in three to five years," Long, also director of the Science and Technology Committee of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told China Daily.

China's Long March rocket is capable of catapulting a 2.8-ton probe into orbit around Mars, Long said.

By comparison, Chang'e 1, a probe that weighs 2.3 tons, will be launched next year to circle the moon for 12 months.

Long said that what China has achieved in space exploration so far can be combined with the expertise and experience to be accumulated in lunar missions to help push the Martian programme.

But he added: "It is unnecessary to wait until after we have completed the lunar mission to initiate the Martian programme. We could begin during the lunar mission."

Following the launch of Chang'e 1 next year, China plans to send a vehicle to soft-land on the moon and cruise around its surface around 2012.
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