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Artificial sun kindles prospects for mission to Mars

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2016-07-18 09:13

China's space scientists have developed the country's largest sun simulator, which is expected to boost its effort to operate rovers on other planets.

With a diameter of 5 meters, the device is capable of providing illumination stronger than natural sunlight and will be used to test the reliability of China's space probes and planetary rovers, according to the instrument's developer, Beijing Institute of Environmental Features, which sent a news release to China Daily on Sunday.

The institute, part of the Second Academy of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, says artificial suns are widely used in tests and measurement of solar batteries, radiation-resistance tests of spacecraft materials and heat balance tests for spaceships.

Previously the institute had developed solar simulators with smaller diameters. The development of a 5-meter simulator helps China move closer to leaders in the field such as the United States, Japan and France, according to the institute.

Wang Ya'nan, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, said the larger solar simulator will be useful in the design and manufacture of spacecraft and planetary rovers because it can simulate solar electromagnetic radiation in space in a realistic manner.

"Solar irradiance is one of the major factors that decide the service span and work mode of a spacecraft or planetary rover," Wang said.

"All light-sensitive equipment used in space such as photovoltaic systems and thermal control coatings must undergo tests with the solar simulator."

He expects that China will develop sun simulators that will be even larger and more advanced because the nation has begun to develop Mars probes and is making preparations for a manned space station, both of which will need more powerful sun simulators.

China plans to send an unmanned Mars probe to orbit and land on the red planet around 2020. Moreover, the country will build a manned space station around 2022, according to China's space authorities.

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