Photo of the Tiangong 1 module undergoing testing earlier in 2011. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering Office
* Scientists decided to let it carry out additional exploratory tasks as the orbiter still had fuel in reserve.
* Scientists hope the satellite can continue operations until the end of 2012.
* Besides the current operations, China’s ambitious three-stage moon mission will include a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012 in the second phase. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.
* The 8.5-tonne Tiangong-1 will be put into preset orbit in 2011
The space module is expected to carry out China’s first space docking, with the Shenzhou-8 spacecraft, which will be launched in the second half of 2011 after Tiangong-1.
The source said experts are currently building the Shenzhou-8 and testing the Long March II-F carrier rocket on which the Tiangong-1 is expected to be launched.
Two other spacecraft, the Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spaceships, will be launched in 2012 and will also dock with Tiangong-1
The third phase of the lunar exploration program is planned for 2017, entailing the use of the CZ-5/E heavy launch vehicle. On the basis of the lander mission, a lunar sample return mission will be undertaken, with up to two kilograms of lunar samples being returned to Earth.
After that, a manned lunar landing might be possible in 2025–2030.
China-Russian Mars Exploration
The probe will be 750cm long, 750 cm wide and 600 mm high. Weighing 115 kg, it is designed for a two-year mission, according to Chen Changya, a researcher at the Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering.
China Mars Plans
The Mars probe will be “intelligent” enough to detect faults and correct them by itself, and able to navigate without relying on commands sent from Earth.
Another obstacle to be overcome involves establishing a monitoring network for deep space, consisting of large-caliber antennas and communication facilities, which China is currently constructing.
Qian Weiping, chief designer of the lunar probe Chang’e-2 mission’s tracking and control system, said in January that the network will be completed in 2016.
The network’s partial completion in 2012 will provide enough support for a Mars probe.