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Mars probe readies for flight

CHINA plans to launch its first Mars probe in the second half of this year, with exploration of the red planet set for 2010, a senior official at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology said yesterday.

A Russian-made rocket will send the probe, the Yinghuo-1, on its 380-million-kilometer journey, Zhang Weiqiang, the academy's vice Party secretary, said at the Shanghai Air Show.

The Chinese-developed Yinghuo-1, which means "firefly," will analyze the planet's magnetic energy and look for evidence of water. The mission will lay the foundation for China's further exploration of the planet.

"After a 10-month journey, the probe will orbit Mars but will not land on the planet," Zhang said.

Officials said earlier that the satellite will be launched in September this year.

The probe is being developed by the academy with support from space experts and astronomers from around the country.

Experts said the periods when the orbiter is in Mar's shadow are considered the greatest challenges facing Yinghuo-1.

Each of the seven planned dark spells, which will prevent the satellite from receiving solar energy, will last 8.8 hours.

The satellite will be put on "sleep" status during the episodes and restart itself after it re-emerges into the sunlight.

The Yinghuo-1 orbiter, which weighs 115 kilograms and is designed to operate for two years will also have to survive under temperatures that will plunge to minus 200 degrees Celsius, experts said.


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