Joint Russian and Chinese mission to Mars slips to 2011
BY CRAIG COVAULT
Posted: September 20, 2009
Planetary mission sources say the Russian Space Agency will officially delay launch of its sample return mission to the Martian moon Phobos until 2011 because of delays with integration and test of the vehicle in time to make its originally planned October launch window.
The delay also affects China's first mission to Mars. The 240 lb. Chinese Yinghou-1 spacecraft was to be mounted atop the Russian spacecraft for transport to Martian orbit where it was to be released before the Russian spacecraft landed on Phobos. The mission was to have been launched on board a Zenit heavy booster from the Baikonur Cosmodrome between October 6-16.
Those elements include a planetary cruise stage and descent stage with landing legs atop which are stacked an ascent stage and sample return capsule. The Chinese spacecraft (not pictured) is to ride on platform added above the sample capsule, but separated before the landing on Phobos.
The fully integrated spacecraft (see graphic below) has a launch weight of more than 24,400 lb. including propellants. It is to fly to Mars about 200 million mi. from Earth then land on the 15 mi. dia. moon that orbits about 5,800 mi. above Mars.
The sample is to be elevated to a soccer ball sized Earth return capsule mounted atop a coffee table sized Earth return bus. Several days of sample operations would be conducted before the ascent stage carrying the Earth return capsule is fired off the lander. It will need only about 22 fps of velocity to escape the small gravity of the moon.
Once back in the vicinity of Earth, the capsule would be separated from the ascent stage and reenter the Earth's atmosphere for a parachute landing and recovery in Australia.
The small Chinese orbiter (see mockup below) would also mark a big increase in Chinese deep space tracking and command and control capability.
The scientific payload on the Chinese spacecraft consists of several instruments including a camera with 660 ft. resolution to monitor Martian dust storms. It also carries a plasma package with electron and ion sensors along with a mass spectrometer, a magnetometer and radio-occultation sounder.
The shift to 2011 means that the U.S., Russia and China will all be flying major missions to Mars in that same timeframe. NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover was also delayed to the late 2011 Martian launch window because of its own development and test problems.