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Chinese rover to land on the Moon next year

Chang'e 2According to a recent news release, China plans to land its first unmanned probe on the Moon in the second half of 2013. Chang'e 3, named after the Chinese goddes of the Moon, will contain a lander and a rover unit, and is planned to accomplish China's first soft landing on Earth's companion. The previous two probes in this series completed their tasks successfully in lunar orbit, paving the way for future missions.

The Chinese Space Agency is making yet another step in its ambitious Moon program. As the Xinhua news agency recently reported, tests are underway for Chang'e 3, China's first lunar lander probe, which is expected to be launced before 2014. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) has been a success so far: Chang'e 1, launced in 2007, orbited the Moon, and used its cameras to create a map of the lunar surface. The similar but upgraded Chang'e 2 followed in 2010, and with a more ambitious trajectory and improved optics, updated the maps leading to a resolution as high as 1 meter / pixel.

launch of Chang'e 1 from Xichang

Launch of Chang'e 1 from the Xichan Satellite Launch Center in 2007

In the next phase, the third probe will attempt a soft landing in the Sinus Iridium crater, a plain of basaltic lava on the near side of the Moon. The 3800kg Chang'e 3 contains a service- and a landing module, the latter of which capable of releasing a rover unit after landing. The lander carries scientific instruments on its own, including a telescope, making it the first Moon based observatory if successful. The 120kg rover is a six wheeled design able to trasmit video in near real time, dig up and analyze soil samples, and study sub-surface features with its radar. The rover will be powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, allowing it to operate through the lunar night.

Chang'e 3 will be launched from the Xichan Satellite Launch Center like its predecessors, and will be followed by a similar fourth spacecraft in 2015. After it, according to CLEP, Chang'e 5 will attempt an automated sample return mission, allowing a possible manned landing before 2030.

Last Updated (Thursday, 16 August 2012 06:42)

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