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China Keeps Its Sight On Long-Term Mars Exploration

Across thousands of years every civilization has eyed the red planet with wonder.
by Wei Long
Beijing - Jun 25, 2003
China would carry out long-term Mars exploration in four stages that might lead to the eventual human exploration of the red planet, an article from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) publication Science Times said on June 13.

Liu Zhenxing, a researcher from the CAS Center for Space Science and Applied Research (CSSAR) said that although there would be no immediate plan to explore Mars, China would systematically explore our planetary neighbour in the 21st century.

However, Liu did not mention any timeline of the Mars exploration initiative.

In March the head of the Chinese space agency China National Space Administration (CNSA) confirmed that the immediate destination in its planetary exploration program would be the Moon rather than Mars.

Luan Enjie, Administrator of CNSA, said that China would explore the Moon under the "Chang E Program", part of the overall "2-1-1 Project", in the next dozen years or so.

Liu considers that the focus of planetary exploration and exploitation in this century would be on Mars.

He believes that a Mars exploration program would reflect the level of frontier technology and economic strength of a nation. "It is very significant to the development of science, society and economy in China, and raises the international status of the country," said Liu.

China has been studying the necessity and feasibility of Mars exploration since early 1990s as part of the national "863 Planetary Exploration" project, according to Liu. The study mainly included surveying development of Mars spacecraft of other nations and assembling science results that these probes returned.

The information has helped China to propose its initial Mars exploration science objectives and sketchy spacecraft working plans.

In a separate interview published in Beijing Youth Daily on June 18, Liu explained why China had not developed a specific plan to explore Mars: "China presently lacks high-power, large-distance data transmission and communications systems. If a normal communication link between the Mars probe and the ground cannot be guaranteed, there is nothing to speak of remotely controlling the probe from the ground."

Liu said that in developing a Chinese Mars exploration program, his country should systematically acquaint with the current state of international Mars exploration and development trend; then couple with the experience and lessons learned in Chinese space technology and deep space exploration to tackle the more difficult technologies.

He suggested that China should start preliminary research on Mars exploration, particularly in key technologies such as satellite orbit calculation, launch system, and high-power large-distance communications equipment.

But Liu emphasized, "We don't want to completely repeat the work that others have already done. We need to adequately develop the creativeness of our scientists and technicians, so as to strive for its own characteristics and new ideas in scientific thinking and technology program."

Liu pointed out that the Mars exploration plan should coordinate with the current "Chang E" lunar exploration program so as to fully utilize its technology prerequisites and foundation.

He thinks that the overall Chinese Mars exploration plan could have four phases:

Phase 1 would prepare all the necessary work before the first mission. This includes international cooperation to study the Martian environment, propose advance exploration goals and projects, and address specific key technologies according to the requirements of the goals.

Phase 2 would see orbiter missions that probe the Martian environment, including its magnetic field, ionosphere, atmosphere, and the physical and chemical properties of the surface. The studies would prepare for future soft-landing missions on Mars.

Phase 3 would launch spacecraft to land on the red planet. This phase would test the landing technology, develop Martian rovers and robonauts, and explore the geography and meteorology of the environment. The work would get ready for the set up of surface observation stations.

Phase 4 would establish surface observation stations, explore the mineral characteristics, meteorology and internal structure of Mars, collect rock samples using robotic arms, develop shuttle vehicles between Earth and Mars, and build bases that robonauts would attend to. The work in this phase would create a foundation for future human flights to Mars and human-tended observing outposts.

Liu urged China to collaborate with international partners to reduce the cost, raise the level and shorten the development cycle.

"As a major spacefaring nation, carrying out Mars exploration and exploitation, and the work on international collaboration is essential and imperative," concluded Liu.

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The Phantom Yuhangyuans
Sydney - Apr 28, 2003
Recent months have seen a new hobby emerge within the aerospace community: Yuhangyuan spotting. Curiosity about China's first group of astronauts has grown stronger as the first crewed mission of China's Shenzhou spacecraft draws closer.

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