Jun 8, 2009 | 2
The rapidly ascending Chinese space program is setting its sights on a new target: Mars.
China plans to send an orbiter to the Red Planet on a Russian launch vehicle later this year, according to the Xinhua News Agency. The nation's first Mars probe, Yinghuo 1, will piggyback on the ambitious Phobos–Grunt mission, a Russian spacecraft that will seek to return soil samples from Phobos, the larger of Mars's two tiny moons.
Details on the orbiter's cost and scientific goals are scarce, with a Shanghai Aeronautic Bureau official telling the news agency: "(The major task) is to orbit and explore Mars and test data of Mars' atmosphere and surrounding environment. This is to create a better platform for future space exploration." A 2007 Xinhua report described a small probe: just 2.5 feet (75 centimeters) long and weighing 240 pounds (110 kilograms).
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