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Red Planet Out Of Scope For Red China Spacecraft For Now

Artist impression of a Chinese lunar orbiter circling the Moon. (Photo: China Central TV)
by Wei Long
Beijing - Mar 20, 2003
China would not set sight to explore Mars before 2015, Wen Wei Po in Hong Kong reported on Mar. 9. Instead the country would focus on unmanned exploration of the Moon during this period.

Luan Enjie, Administrator of the Chinese space agency China National Space Administration (CNSA), said that planetary exploration would be part of the deep space exploration that China would carry out in the next ten years.

Luan, who is also Deputy Minister of Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (COSTIND), said as well that his agency had mapped out a new "2-1-1 Project".

The "2-1-1 Project" of CNSA bears the same codename as another national project. But its nature is totally different from the other "211 Project" and there are no relations between the two programs.

The other "211 Project" is a key national program to improve advanced education through construction of more educational institutions and increase in research funding.

Luan explained that the "2" in the CNSA "2-1-1 Project" was a reference to two models: building satellite common platforms and modularizing launch vehicles.

The satellite common platforms would be produced in batch as reserves.

When there is a need to launch a satellite, it would only take an installation of the satellite content and equipment for testing. This would eliminate the need to research and develop a separate special-purpose satellite.

With modularizing launch vehicles, the idea is to optimize the combination of different types of launchers and their components with prospective payloads, including the manned spacecraft. This would lower the launch cost, shorten the mission cycle and increase the reliability of the launch process.

As to the "1s" in the "2-1-1 Project", one of them is the setup of an overall unified ground and space communications system so that ground reception stations could transmit information to several spacecraft at the same time.

The other "1" is deep space exploration of other planets in the Solar System.

Luan stated clearly, "In our deep space exploration program, we don't have any plan to explore Mars for the time being."

The Administrator thought that the "2-1-1 Project" could be completed around 2015.

"But based on the current progress, particularly considering the case of the smooth launches and landings of the four Shenzhou spacecraft, I estimate that whole project plan could possibly finish in about 2010," Luan said optimistically.

Just a week ago on Mar. 1, Luan announced the proposed unmanned lunar exploration plan at the conclusion of the 2003 Civil Space Working Conference and Lunar Exploration Preparation Conference that CNSA hosted here.

The proposed plan, called the "Chang E Program", would be the next major space undertaking after the current Shenzhou manned space project.

Chang E was a woman in a legend who fled to the Moon after she secretly consumed the elixir that her husband had obtained.

Luan said that there would be three phases in the long-term "Chang E" unmanned lunar exploration program. It could begin in the later part of the current 10th five-year economic plan, abbreviated as "10 5", and extend into the next five-year economic plan "11 5" that would start in 2006.

Although still waiting for State authorization, Luan indicated that beginning this year China would further evaluate the program and tackle key technologies.

The CNSA Administrator told China News Services on Mar. 1: "At present China has the level of capability to explore the Moon.

"CNSA is following the principle of 'Faster, Better and Cheaper' to start further evaluation of the 'Chang E' program, and laying out related work that would bring a general breakthrough in lunar exploration key technologies," added Luan.

The first stage of the three-stage "Chang E Program" would have orbiter missions to map lunar resources.

The orbiters would obtain 3-D imagery of the surface of the Moon, remote analyze the content of useful elements and the distribution of mineral types, and sense the thickness of the top layer of the lunar surface called regolith.

The lunar orbiters would also study the space environment between the Earth and the Moon as they make the translunar trips.

In the second stage, lunar spacecraft would make soft landings to deliver rovers or robonauts to survey the surface.

The final stage of the program would see spacecraft or robonauts that would retrieve and return lunar samples back to Earth.

Sun Jiadong, a senior aerospace specialist and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that China would use the common platform of the Dongfanghong-3 (DFH-3) comsat to develop the lunar spacecraft.

The program would choose the Changzheng-3A (Long March-3A) vehicle to launch the lunar spacecraft from the Xichang Satellite Launching Center (XSLC) in the southwestern Sichuan Province.

"Chang E Program" Chief Scientist Ouyang Ziyuan is confident that by 2006 the first lunar orbiter would be launched to the Moon.

Ouyang said further, "Following closely, a Chinese lunar rover with the [national] five stars red flag would also set foot on the Moon."

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