As China steps up its lunar exploration, some scientists in the country are planning another space project, the "Kuafu Mission," with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the activities of the sun.
The project is expected to be launched in 2012 and will study the complex Sun-Earth system and improve the space weather forecast, Tu Chuanyi, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said at the ongoing 36th Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly.
The mission will raise the standard of end-to-end observation of the Sun-Earth system, and advance scientists' understanding of the basic physical processes underlying space weather, said Tu, who is also a professor at Peking University.
Tu said the mission is designed to observe the complete chain of disturbances from the solar atmosphere to geo-space, including solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs), interplanetary clouds, shock waves, and their geo-effects such as magnetic storms and auroral activities.
The mission is named after the legendary Chinese character Kuafu who tried to catch the sun and enter it.
"The Kuafu Mission may start at the next solar maximum, the year of 2012, hopefully, and with an initial mission lifetime of two to three years," Tu said.
He said the mission is composed of three spacecraft: Kuafu-A, Kuafu B1 and B2. Kuafu-A will be located at the Lagrangian point L1, a point of stability with respect to gravitational forces between the sun and Earth, and will have instruments aboard to allow continuous observation of solar activities.
Kuafu B1 and B2 will be in polar Earth orbits that enable continuous observations of the aurora in the northern hemisphere, which shows the influence of the sun's activities on Earth, Tu said.
The mission is now at the comprehensive review stage, Tu said, adding that the review would focus on a more detailed study of mission objectives and payload.
At the same time, the Chinese space industry will conduct preliminary engineering studies on various technical elements, including a satellite platform, launch strategy, tracking and control as well as a data transmission system.
A dozen leading scientists from Germany, France, Belgium, Austria, Canada and other countries are expected to participate in the project.
William Liu, chief scientist of space physics and atmosphere science with the Canadian Space Agency, told Xinhua News Agency that the Kuafu Mission is of great scientific significance and would involve the participation of world leaders in this field.
(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2006)