China’s Mars explorer launched, hitchhiking Russian mission

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe and China’s Yinghuo-1 satellite were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Zenit-2SB rocket at 20:16 GMT Tuesday.

After 688 seconds of flight Phobos-Grunt successfully separated from the second stage booster.

The main aim of the Phobos-Grunt is to bring back the first ever soil sample from Phobos, the largest of Mars’ two moons. The mission will also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one US biological experiments.

Meanwhile, China’s first Mars probe Yinghuo-1 will go into orbit around Mars and observe the planet itself. The Chinese probe, which will not land on Mars nor return to Earth, will stay permanently in space and communicate with ground control directly through satellites. The launch of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1, originally scheduled for October 2009 on a Russian carrier rocket, had been postponed until 2011 due to “technical reasons” on the Russian side.

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