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August 29, 2009

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China's Mars-probe launch set

CHINA'S first Mars probe will blast off on its 380 million kilometer journey to the Red Planet between October 6 and 16, space officials said yesterday.

The Chinese-developed Yinghuo-1, which means "firefly" in Mandarin, will be sent up during the 10-day launch window period whenever conditions are most favorable, Meng Xin, the project's chief engineer, was quoted as saying in Beijing's Legal Mirror.

The probe is now in Moscow, where it is undergoing docking tests with the Russian-made rocket that will send it aloft.

The docking procedures should finished by the end of September. The probe and the rocket will then be shipped to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for launch.

A Russian probe, "Phobos," named after Mars' largest moon, will also be carried by the rocket. It will be sent to the Martian moon to obtain soil samples.

Unlike the Russian probe, Yinghuo-1 will not make a landing but will orbit Mars after a 10 month journey. It 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.

The Yinghuo-1 orbiter, which weighs 115 kilograms and is designed to operate for two years, faces challenges including energy depletion in Mars' shadow and extreme temperatures that will plunge to minus 200 degrees Celsius.

China launched its first lunar probe, the Chang'e-1, on October 24, 2007.

The country also plans to develop its own state-of-the art manned space station.


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