China and Russia are planning a joint mission to Mars that will not only bring samples back to earth but also aims to effect a landing on one of the Red Planet's tiny moons, a Chinese space scientist has said.
Ye Peijian, a leading scientist with the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology, made the announcement at an ongoing forum on China's space technology development organized by the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Ye said Russia will launch the spacecraft in 2009 and it will carry China-made survey equipment. It will collect samples on Mars and the planet's nearest moon.
Sun Laiyan, administrator of the China National Space Administration said last month at an international space conference that China is actively planning its deep space exploration projects for the next five years, focusing on lunar and Mars exploration.
"We will encourage other countries to take part in space science programs initiated by China, and Chinese scientists will likewise participate in international programs," Sun said.
In February 2004, China began a Lunar Exploration Mission, and started research and development into a lunar probe.
China's space agency plans to launch its first lunar orbiter, Chang'e I, in 2007. In 2010, it will launch an unmanned spacecraft for a soft landing on the Moon.
In October 2005, Shenzhou VI initiated manned space lab experiments. During this time, China also launched four recoverable satellites.
Sun said that the priorities in China's future space program were manned space missions, lunar probes, the development of high-resolution observation systems, second generation navigation and positional systems, and a new generation carrier rocket.
Wang Xiaojun, deputy director of the general department of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said that China urgently needs to develop a new generation carrier rocket to increase China's space capabilities.
Research and development into the heavy carrier rocket, in-orbit assembly and launch technology, and reuse of carriers will be key areas, Wang said.
Wang Yongzhi, former chief designer of China's manned-space project, said that China will need to construct its own space station in the future.
But the construction of this space station should reflect China's situation and practical needs.
"China's future space station should be small and economical," Wang said, adding that it would not have to be manned around-the-clock.
(Xinhua News Agency August 24, 2006)