Page last updated at 14:54 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 15:54 UK

China probe to launch in October

Mars (Nasa)
Russia and China have agreed to co-operate on Mars exploration

China's first unmanned Mars probe is being readied for a launch later this year, state media reports.

The Yinghuo 1 orbiter is scheduled to lift-off alongside Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft aboard a Zenit rocket in October after final testing.

The probe will slip into orbit around Mars some 10 months later.

It will investigate what happened to the water that appears to have once been abundant on the planet's surface.

The 110kg (242lb) Chinese satellite, developed by the Shanghai Space Administration, will carry eight pieces of equipment, including two cameras, the report said.

China became the third nation to put a man into space when Yang Liwei piloted the one-man Shenzhou 5 space mission in 2003.

In 2007, the country despatched an unmanned spacecraft called Chang'e to orbit the Moon.

Last September, Chinese astronauts, known as "yuhangyuan", stepped outside the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft to carry out the country's first space walk.

China is due to launch a space module next year and carry out the nation's first space docking in 2011 as a step towards its goal of building a space station, state media say.

Phobos-Grunt is an unmanned probe that will touch down on Mars' biggest moon Phobos and then return a soil sample to Earth. It will also study the Red Planet from orbit, including its atmosphere, dust storms, plasma and radiation.

Yinghuo 1 and Phobos Grunt will blast off on a Russian carrier rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The two countries signed an agreement in 2007 to co-operate on Mars exploration.

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