China successfully launches 2nd lunar probe

2013-12-02 07:24:05 GMT2013-12-02 15:24:05(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English
Long March 3C rocket carrying China's second unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e II, lifts off from the launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, at 18:59:57 (Beijing time) on Oct. 1, 2010. (Xinhua/Li Gang)Long March 3C rocket carrying China's second unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e II, lifts off from the launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province, at 18:59:57 (Beijing time) on Oct. 1, 2010. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

China launched its second unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e-2 on Friday, inaugurating the second phase of a three-step moon mission, which will culminate in a soft-landing on the moon.

At 6:59:57 p.m., the satellite blasted off on a Long March 3C carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"Chang'e-2 lays foundation for the soft-landing on the moon around 2013and further exploration of outer space," said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project.

Chang'e-2 entered the orbit with a perigee of 200 kilometers and apogee of 380,000 kilometers at 7:26 p.m. as scheduled. There it separated from the carrier rocket.

It was the first time that a Chinese lunar probe directly entered the earth-moon transfer orbit without orbiting the earth first.

"It is a major breakthrough of the rocket design, as it saves energy used by the satellite and speeds up the journey to the lunar orbit," said Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology.

The lunar satellite is expected to take about 112 hours, or almost five days, to arrive at its lunar orbit, faster than the 14 days taken by the Chang'e-1 three years ago.

"It travels faster and closer to the moon, and it will capture clear pictures," Wu said.

The control center declared the launch a success, after the solar panels of the lunar probe were unfolded and the satellite began to use solar energy for power supply.

Thousands of people witnessed the event from a venue 4 kilometers away from the launch pad. Residents at downtown of Xichang fired fireworks to celebrate the successful launch.

Chang'e-2, named after a legendary Chinese goddess of moon, will orbit 100 kilometers above the moon, compared with 200 kilometers for Chang'e-1.

The satellite will be maneuvered into an orbit just 15 kilometer above the moon. At that point, Chang'e-2 will take pictures of moon's Bay of Rainbows area, the proposed landing ground for Chang'e-3, with a resolution of 1.5 meters. The resolution on Chang'e-1's camera was 120 meters.

If Chang'e-2 sends back high-resolution photos of the Bay of Rainbows, which is considered one of the most beautiful features on the moon, the mission can be deemed a complete success, Wu said.

Wu said four to five areas had been chosen for a landing ground for Chang'e-3, but the Bay of Rainbows would be the first choice.

"The geological structure in this area is diverse, so a probe there would have greater scientific value," he said.

"Other places on the moon have already been landed on, so we want to choose one that has not been explored before," he said.

The launch vehicle for the satellite, China's Long March 3C rocket, is 54.84 meters long with a lift-off weight of 345 tonnes. The delivery capacity of the rocket is 3.8 tonnes.

It was the Long March series rocket's 131th trip into space.

Total expenditure for the Chang'e-2 mission is about 900 million yuan (134.33 million U.S. dollars).

The final destiny of Chang'e-2 had not been decided, Wu said. It may crash on the moon for further experiment, or fly into further outer space, or return to the earth orbit, Wu said.

Compared with Chang'e-1's more than one year of life span, Huang Chuanjiang, chief designer of the Chang'e-2, said six-month of designed life span of Chang'e-2 was enough for it to fulfill its mission.

Wu Weiren explained the shorter life span was also due to more fuel the satellite has to consume as it has more experiments to conduct.

Wu did not rule out the possibility of extending the service time of the satellite.

Flying to the moon is the nation's long cherished dream, as Chang'e has been worshipped as the "moon lady" for thousands of years. Legend has it that she floated toward the sky and finally landed on the moon after taking a bottle of elixir, where she became a goddess accompanied by a jade rabbit.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, in October 2007, marking a milestone in the country's space exploration.

After orbiting for about 16 months and a controlled crash on the lunar surface, Chang'e-1 sent back 1.37 terabytes of data, producing China's first complete moon picture. The data has been shared with other countries for free.

China's ambitious three-stage moon mission will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2013 in the second phase. In the third stage, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research before 2020.

China became the third country after Russia and the United States to send a person into space in 2003.

Two more manned space missions followed with the most recent in 2008 involving China's first human space walk.

Talking about the manned moon landing, Wu said China has no plan or timetable for it for now. It will not happen before 2020, he added.

China's moon mission aims at peaceful use of the outer space, and China hopes to expand cooperation with other countries on the basis of equality and mutual benefits, Wu said.

"For instance, the European Space Agency has provided their space stations to help us monitor the satellite when it goes beyond what we could monitor, which expends the monitoring time. We also share our data with them for free," he added.

Despite increasing exchanges, Wu said it is essential that China relies on itself to develop key space technology since the-state-of-the-art technology could not be purchased from others.

Once the moon mission completed, it is entirely possible for China to probe other planets such as Venus and Mars, and then step into other planets in the solar system, he said.

Over the past 52 years, 127 moon missions have been launched worldwide, of which 57 by the United State, 64 by the Soviet Union, two by Japan and China and one by India and European Space Agency.

About half of those missions failed.

Although China started its moon mission rather late, the mission plans have been carried out step by step, Wu said.

Ouyang Ziyuan, a renowned scientist who pioneered China's moon mission, said the United States and Russia belong to the first echelon in terms of moon mission technology, while China belongs to the second tier which also includes Japan, India and Europe.

Though the competition was intense, nations should improve cooperation on moon mission for the benefits of the entire human being. It is also the shared responsibility of all scientists, Ouyang said. Enditem

 

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