28 October 2009

Russian/Chinese Mars Mission Rescheduled for 2011- 27OCT09

Joint Russian and Chinese Mission to Mars Slips to 2011


Joint Russian and Chinese mission to Mars slips to 2011
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.

Credit: Lavochkin

Designed with its five primary elements stacked atop one another (see
graphic above) the Russian Phobos mission is one of the most daring
planetary flights ever planned by either the U.S. or former Soviet
Union. It is being built by the Lavochkin Association facility, which
has developed many previous successful Soviet planetary missions and
also builds Russian military spacecraft today.

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.

Credit: Lavochkin

Using a sample apparatus similar to that carried to Earth's moon on
three successful Soviet unmanned lunar landing missions, the Phobos
lander is to drill into the surface of Phobos to obtain a sample from as
deep as 3 ft. below the surface. The apparatus is also designed so
ground controllers using the spacecraft's television system can spot and
pick up rock pebbles for return to earth. Up to about 160 grams (5.5 oz)
of soil and rocks could be collected.

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.

Phobos is believed by many planetary scientists to be a captured
asteroid, but it could also be dotted with dust pockets of Martian
material that could have landed on Phobos after large meteor impacts on
Mars. This means that samples of the body could yield a bonanza of data
on the composition of both asteroids and Mars. That data is of
increasing importance given the emphasis being placed on other future
sample return flights, including possible manned missions, to asteroids
much closer to Earth, as well as Phobos and eventually Mars itself.

U.S. geologist Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis (a
member of both the NASA Mars rover and Phoenix lander science teams)
says he has been helping the Chinese develop standardized data formats
for the mission. This is so the data from the Chinese orbiter can be
used by international planetary scientists.

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.

Source: Ron Baalke, NASA

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