Friday, September 3, 2010

Chang'e-2 sets stage for future Moon missions

China's second lunar orbiter Chang'e-2 began as back up for Chang'e-1 (2007-2009). Scheduled for a possible October launch, Chang'e-2 should arrive sooner, orbit the Moon closer and gather better data. If all goes well the vehicle should allow rehearsal opportunities for China's first soft landing on the Moon in 2013, and a better camera on Chang'e-2 may gather 1 meter resolution photographs of preferred landing sites.

China's unmanned space program has only one deep space target: the Moon. The United States may be preparing to abandon manned exploration of the lunar surface but the new era of international lunar exploration, a 'second moon race,' continues. India, Russia and China may each have achieved soft landings there before the U.S. deploys the first, if any, of planned nodes for an International Lunar Network (ILN). After Chandrayaan-2 and Chang'e-3, Chang'e-4 may return the first lunar samples to Earth since the Soviet's Luna 24 in 1976.

From Xinhua -- China's second lunar probe, Chang'e-2, will transition much faster than its predecessor, reaching lunar orbit in a shorter period of time, a top Chinese space scientist told Xinhua Friday.

China launched Chang'e-1 from Sichuan October 24, 2007. The first of China's planned unmanned lunar missions ended a 16-month mission March 1, 2009 when it was intentionally de-orbited into Mare Fecunditatis.

"It is estimated Chang'e-2 can reach lunar orbit within five days, compared to 13 days, 14 hours and 19 minutes for Chang'e-1," Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist at the China Lunar Exploration Project, told Xinhua.

"China had not been to Moon before Chang'e-1 so we were very prudent and adjusted its transfer orbit in a very slow manner. It traveled 2.06 million kilometers before lunar orbit insertion," Ouyang said. "It's different now. We are more certain about the launch and can send Chang'e-2 directly to the moon, and we have also planned the transfer orbit to reach the Moon within five days."

Plans call for Chang'e 2 to orbit 100 km closer to the moon with a higher resolution camera, he said.

According to China's three-phase lunar exploration 'road map,' the country will first launch the Chang'e-2 and afterward soft-land Chang'e-3 on the moon in 2013 and, in 2017, Chang'e-4 will return a lunar sample to Earth.

Experts have speculated the Chang'e-2 mission will allow China to begin mastering soft-landing techniques for Chang'e-3 and 4, short of terminal descent. Careful lowering of its orbit to rehearse everything short of terminal descent that otherwise might begin after passing perilune could allow low passes over an intended target and an opportunity to take high-resolution photography.

Public mock-up of the China Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) Chang'e-4, in development for a soft landing on the Moon in 2013. China's methodical dual-track developmental plans, its manned and unmanned (lunar), space programs seem devoted more to engineering design capability over science [Xinhua].

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