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Chinese smart Mars project.


Chinese smart space projects. - Mars.


"Smart" Mars probe will boldly go on trek

03-02-2011 11:06 BJT

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Mission plan being drafted as nation sets eyes on "Red Planet"

BEIJING - China will update and modify its lunar probes to develop a Mars probe, Ye Peijian, chief scientist of deep space exploration at the China Academy of Space Technology, told China Daily.

Modifications, to enable the Mars probe to reach deep space and become "smarter", will be carried out, said Ye, who is in charge of drafting a technical plan for exploration of the "Red Planet", which has yet to get government approval.


Ye Peijian is chief scientist of deep space
exploration at the China Academy of Space
Technology. Wang Jing / China Daily

Ye, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, believes exploring the planet is the inevitable path for China, a growing space power.

"In the last century, lunar landings and exploration were the priority, but the trend has reversed this century," he said.

The China Academy of Space Technology, designers of the Shenzhou spacecraft and lunar probes, is trying to draft a technical plan for Mars exploration.

The Mars probe will be "intelligent" enough to detect faults and correct them by itself, and able to navigate without relying on commands sent from Earth.

This self-reliance is important due to the distances involved, Ye said. "Mars is so far away from us - from 55 million km to 400 million km depending on its orbit - and signals need a longer time to transmit. Relying on commands from Earth will be impossible."

A signal sent from Earth to Mars will take at least 20 minutes. "When scientists detect something wrong and try to correct it, the time needed to send signals will make it impossible to correct mistakes in time," he said. ( Addition: How about the Rovers, going on for years and years ? A miracle ! )

This "smart" ability will be vital when the probe uses the planet's gravity to enter orbit, a maneuver that requires the probe to adjust its speed and use the gravitational pull to ensure the correct path.

"Due to the time delay in communications, it would be impossible for us to know the exact position of the probe to maneuver it to enter the preset orbit," he said.

No such communication gap exists in the moon program, as transmissions to a lunar orbiter only take a second, and scientists can accurately maneuver a probe to ensure its correct orbit.

But developing a "smart" probe is not the only major hurdle, he said.

Another obstacle to be overcome involves establishing a monitoring network for deep space, consisting of large-caliber antennas and communication facilities, which China is currently constructing.



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