Two US interplanetary space stations are due to be launched towards Mars in June of this year, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced, Rosaviakosmos (the Russian Aerospace Agency) reported on Friday.
The launches are set for June 5 and June 25.
"Both stations will head towards our neighbouring planet, each carrying in their containers a 180-kilogramme Mars-roving robot, which will be landed on its surface in January 2004. The first in the Gusev Crater area, the second on the other side of the planet. Each Martian rover will travel about 700 metres in the course of three months, studying the planet's geology and its atmosphere as it goes.
The first station, together with the Delta-2 carrier rocket, will be set up on a launch pad in three days' time, Rosaviakosmos added.
The Russian Airspace Agency complained that it had proved impossible to pool the efforts of all countries in these unmanned expeditions to Mars.
"With similar aims, an interplanetary station of the European Space Agency will blast off from the Baikonur cosmodrome on June 2 for the red planet. It will carry Britain's Mars lander Beagle-2, while the station will have a number of instruments of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Space Research.
"This station is to be launched by means of a Proton carrier rocket and the Briz-M booster section," it was noted at Rosaviakosmos.
Our station, according to calculations, must deliver the Beagle-2 to Mars by the end of December and will begin studying the planet ahead of the US. However, in investigating Mars, some strange things are observed - 60 per cent of the stations sent towards that planet get out of control while still in flight and more than half of them perish for unknown reasons within the first minutes of "touching down", Rosaviakosmos acknowledged.
Eduard Puzyryov, RIAN