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China & Russia in joint mission to Mars

Published by Rob on Fri Mar 30, 2007 9:10 am
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In a space milestone Russia and China have agreed a joint venture to the red planet. The agreement was signed during a three-day visit to Russia by China’s president Hu Jintao. The agreement comes after much speculation that Russia want to work closer with China on missions to both the Moon and Mars.

A small satellite developed by China will piggyback on the Russian launch of a spacecraft called “Phobos Grunt”, probably in October 2009. Phobos being one of the larger moons to orbit the planet.

In a statement, the China National Space Administration said the agreement “indicates the two sides have taken a key step forward to working together on a large space programme.” After entering orbit around the Red Planet, the Chinese micro-satellite will detach from the Russian spacecraft, and probe the Martian space environment, according to the statement. The Russian spacecraft will touch down on the Martian moon Phobos and collect soil samples for return to Earth.

There was no mention of a timetable in the Chinese space agency statement. But earlier Russian reports said the launch window for the 10-11 month voyage to Phobos, Mars’ largest moon, will be in October 2009. The agreement was signed by the China National Space Administration head Sun Laiyan and Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) chief Anatoly Perminov and witnessed by the two countries’ presidents.

China have a three stage approach to exploration of our own moon with Chang’e-1 being launched later this year followed by a soft landing in 2012 and the return of lunar samples in another five years.

A UK team has also drafted plans to go to Phobos as a practice for a sample return mission to Mars.

Phobos (”FOH bus”) is the larger and innermost of Mars’ two moons. Phobos is closer to its primary than any other moon in the solar system, less than 6000 km above the surface of Mars. It is also one of the smallest moons in the solar system. Accompanied by another small moon Phobos, Phobos and Deimos are widely believed to be captured asteroids. There is some speculation that they originated in the outer solar system rather than in the main asteroid belt.

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