December 5, 2008 / 3:48 AM / 10 years ago

China, Russia to send probes to Mars next year

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will team up with Russia to launch two satellite probes to take pictures of Mars and one of its small moons in October next year as it seeks to cement its place in the select ranks of global space powers.

A Chinese-built probe will piggy-back on a Russian-built rocket which would also be carrying a Russian satellite, the Beijing News said, quoting a Chinese lead designer on the project.

The Chinese probe, called “Yinghuo 1,” would “carry two cameras to take photos of Mars and Phobos (Mars 1),” the paper quoted Chen Changya, the mission’s deputy design chief, as saying.

The two countries’ satellites would travel together for 11 months, with the Chinese probe powered by Russia’s, before separating on entering Mars’ orbit, the paper said.

The mission planned for the Chinese probe to spend a year in orbit taking pictures, Chen said, but designers were still puzzling over how to keep the solar-powered probe functioning during seven “long shadow periods.”

The probe would have to pass through seven periods of 8.8 hours in darkness when the sun would be obscured by the red planet, with temperatures plunging to 200 degrees below Celsius, the paper said.

While it could turn itself off to conserve energy, the concern was that it might “freeze to death” and not be able to turn itself back on.

China has made up a lot of ground since late leader Mao Zedong lamented that the country could not launch a potato into space let alone a satellite.

In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket, after the Soviet Union and the United States.

It has launched two more manned space missions since, with live-to-air footage of its first space-walk captivating the nation in September.

Apart from a plan to land an unmanned buggy on the moon by 2012, China has previously stated goals of putting a man on the moon and sending a 20-tonne space station aloft by 2020.

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Macfie

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