Beijing – China launched its Long March-7 carrier on Saturday as part of the country’s five-year plan for the space sector. The primary goal is to have more than 200 spacecraft in orbit by 2020, by performing nearly 30 launches per day on average. The launching event also included the inauguration of the Wenchang Space Launch Center on Hainan Island.

The rocket had with it a next generation crew vehicle, which is expected to make a brief orbital flight before being recovered in Mongolia. As for the mission, is to deliver a prototype shuttle into space, even though several small satellites were also sent into orbit from the shuttle, as reported by Xinhua News Agency.

China launched its Long March-7 carrier on Saturday as part of the country’s five-year plan for the space sector. Photo credit: Xinhua / The Verge
China launched its Long March-7 carrier on Saturday as part of the country’s five-year plan for the space sector. Photo credit: Xinhua / The Verge

The Long March-7 will be the country’s largest carrier rocket, designed to carry up to 25 tons into low-Earth orbit. On May 2010, the Chinese team began developing the Chang Zheng-7. The launching vehicle is a new generation medium-lift orbital spacecraft, which was designed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

One of the most significant advances is that the rocket is China’s first digitally designed spacecraft, which was manufactured while using 3D technology. Also, the rocket is also more “environmentally friendly” than its predecessors due to kerosene and oxygen powering it.

The Long March-7 was the first rocket ever to be launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center. This site is the fourth Chinese launching site, although the only one near the sea. The place is located in the northeast corner of the Hainan Island, on the southern coast of China.

Headed to Mars

According to the report from Xinhua News Agency, a mission to Mars is set to begin around 2020, when the primary goal of 200 spacecraft in orbit from the space agency is already in place, and another one can be taken into account.

“The probe is expected to orbit the red planet, land and deploy a rover all in one mission, which is quite difficult to achieve,”commented Xu Dazhe, director of China’s National Space Administration, on April 22, before the celebrations on April 24 that marked 46 years from the launch of the first satellite.

China is also developing the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, a possible alternative to the GPS, according to a statement from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

Advances from NASA in Mars

Recently, NASA’s car-sized robotic rover, Curiosity, reached its second Martian year in the red planet, which is about 687 Earth days. This advance completed the second cycle of exploration and recorded some environmental patterns through two full cycles of Martian seasons.

The new amount of data could help separate typical seasonal effects for the planet from sporadic events seem less often. For example, a massive methane’s peak in the local atmosphere during the first southern-hemisphere autumn in Gale Crater, Curiosity’s location, was not present during the second fall, even though it is not explained, it was qualified as an abnormal event, according to a press release from NASA.

“Curiosity’s weather station has made measurements nearly every hour of every day, more than 34 million so far,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The duration is important because it is the second time through the seasons that lets us see repeated patterns.”

One of the similarities among the seasons of Mars and the ones on Earth is that both have a yearly rhythm in their seasons, although the ones in Mars are more visible than Earth’s. Even the difference in temperatures between day and night on the red planet can go from extreme heat to extreme cold.

During the time of the Martian year, temperatures at Gale Crater rose above freezing during the day, and then plummet overnight below minus 139 F, due to the planet’s thin atmosphere, NASA stated. Also, the more elliptical orbit of Mars, compared to Earth, exaggerated the southern hemisphere seasons by making them a more dominant event over the exploration area, near the central location.

According to Germán Martínez, a Curiosity science team collaborator from Spain, the red planet is much drier than Earth, and in particular at the Gale Crater, near the equator, is drier than the rest of the world. The water vapor content in Mars can be a thousand to ten thousand times less than on Earth, he added.

During the winter nights, Curiosity analyzed relative humidity, a function of both temperatures and water-vapor content. The measurement was up to 70 percent, high enough to prompt researchers to check for snow forming on the ground, even though nothing was found.

The competition

Besides the already in advantage Curiosity, some British teams and the Chinese are also interested in gathering information about the Red Planet. The Commission on Planetary Cartography launched a competition in April for the design of a Mars Exploration Zone Map, as reported by the Christian Science Monitor.

The peculiar and ambitious challenge come months after the British cartographic company, Ordnance Survey, ventured off-planet for the first time and design its map of Mar with its particular and iconic style. There is no precise date related to this project, the only one that is probably soon enough is the Chinese team by 2020.

Source: Xinhua News Agency