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China tests lander in international cooperation operation

Samuel McNeil, Associated Press

Published Thursday, November 14, 2019 11:42 AM

HUAILAI, China – China unveiled its spacecraft on Mars during a landing test on Thursday as the country struggles for inclusion in more global space projects.

The ability to hover, avoid obstacles and slow down was demonstrated outside Beijing, simulating conditions on the red planet, where the force of gravity is about one third of that of Earth.

China plans to launch a lander and rover to Mars next year to explore parts of the planet, one of four scheduled missions. The US and Europe are also sending vehicles to Mars next year, and the United Arab Emirates plans to launch an orbiter.

China's burgeoning space program reached a lunar milestone earlier this year by landing a spaceship on the mysterious side of the moon.

It has developed rapidly, especially since it first carried out its manned mission in 2003, and sought cooperation with space agencies from Europe and elsewhere.

The US, however, has banned most space cooperation with China for national security reasons, preventing China from participating in the International Space Station.

Nevertheless, China's ambitions continue to grow, seeking to rival the US, Russia and Europe in space and consolidating its position as a regional and global power. It is gradually building its own larger and more permanent space station, in which it invited foreign participation.

The spacecraft on Thursday successfully avoided ground obstacles during a simulated low-gravity descent, according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the main contractor for the Chinese space program.

The refrigerator-sized vessel was gently lowered into 36 cables in the air for about a minute and used on-board jets spraying rust-colored vapors to alter its downward course.

"Once the spacecraft is launched, it will take about seven months to reach Mars, and the final landing procedure will last only seven minutes, which is the most difficult and riskiest part of the entire mission," said the Mars mission. Chief Designer Zhang Rongqiao, facing the 140 meter (460 ft) high test facility.

Many spacecraft launched by the US, Russia and other countries have been lost or destroyed over the years. Only the US has succeeded and made eight successful landings.

The remote test site is one hour north of Beijing's Great Wall.

Thursday's event guests came from 19 countries and included ambassadors from Brazil, France and Italy.

"This event is the first public appearance of China's Mars Exploration Mission, also an important step for China to pragmatically undertake international space exchange and cooperation," China's National Space Administration said in a statement.

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