China to launch Mars probe atop Russian rocket

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s first Mars probe is expected to be launched in the second half of this year on top of a Russian rocket, said Xinhua on Thursday, the latest milestone in the nation’s ambitious space program.

Yinghuo-1, or Firefly Light-1, weighs 115 kgs (253 lb) and passed an important test, Xinhua quoted Zhang Weiqiang, deputy secretary of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology as saying.

The probe has an expected life of two years and would go into orbit around Mars in 2010 after a 10-month, 380-million-km journey, Zhang said.

The probe won’t land on Mars, but would only orbit and monitor the planet, he said.

Earlier this year, a Chinese probe ended its 16-month mission with a planned crash into the lunar surface, the first step in plans to land a vehicle on the moon in 2012.

China launched its third manned space mission last year, which included its first spacewalk.

Beijing is looking to eventually put astronauts on the moon, but the government has not announced any schedule for that mission.

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Reporting by Kirby Chien; Editing by Bill Tarrant