Russian Mars probe fails to reach intended orbit

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Yinghuo-1, China's first interplanetary spacecraft, is set to hitch a ride with Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars mission on Wednesday morning, after a two-year delay. However, according to Russia's space agency, the Mars probe has failed to reach its intended orbit. 

A simulated computer image of Yinghuo-1 and the Mars.[File photo/Xinhua]

A simulated computer image of Yinghuo-1 and the Mars.[File photo/Xinhua] 

The abnormality occurred after the Phobos-Grunt probe had separated from the Zenit-2SB launch vehicle, which blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan at 2016 GMT Tuesday, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The spacecraft was supposed to use its own booster to reach the designated flying orbit, but failed to do so, the report added.

Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos, was quoted as saying that the mission control lost contact with the probe after the separation.

"Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the (probe's) engine failed to start," he added.

It is China and Russia's first joint Mars operation and also marks China's first voyage to the Red Planet, China Great Wall Industry Corp said in a news release on Tuesday.

Yinghuo-1, with a two-year lifespan, has its own scientific goals.

These include analyzing the planet's magnetic environment and ionosphere (upper atmosphere), taking images of topographical features and studying gravity fields on the Martian equator.

The mission was set for October 2009, but later postponed to this year to enhance the reliability of the project.

Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Union have succeeded in landing probes on Mars. Five are in operation, four belong to the US and one belongs to the EU.

At least 21 probes sent to the planet have failed. The Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology under the CASC, which designed Yinghuo-1 in 23 months, said that the satellite posed a major technological challenge as the furthest space destination for China before had been the moon. The moon's average distance from Earth is about 384,000 km. The distance between Mars and Earth, depending on orbits, ranges from approximately 55 million km to about 350 million km.

(China Daily contributed to this story)

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