China Heads Back to the Moon

Artist impression of Chang’E-2. Credit: CNSA

China successfully launched their second robotic mission, Chang’E-2, to the Moon.

A Long March 3C rocket blasted off from Xichang launch center just before 1100 GMT on October 1. The satellite is scheduled to reach the Moon in five days, and so far, all the telemetry shows everything to be working as planned.

It will take some time for Chang’E-2 to settle into its 100-km (60-mile) orbit above the lunar surfaces, although the China space agency also said the spacecraft will come as close as 15km above the surface during its mission in order to take high-resolution imagery of potential landing sites for Chang’E-3, China’s next lunar mission that will send a rover to the Moon’s surface, scheduled for 2013. The data returned by Chang’E-2 will also provide new information about the Moon that is of interest to astrobiologists. It is thought that the Earth and the Moon were formed when two giant bodies collided early in the Solar System’s history. Studying the Moon can teach us a great deal about how the Earth formed and became habitable for life as we know it.

The launch of Chang’e 1 Lunar Satellite in 2007, at Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: AAxanderr, Wikipedia

Chang’E-2 will be used to test key technologies and collect data for future landings.

China hopes to send another robotic probe to the Moon later this decade to attempt to return lunar samples to Earth, with the ultimate goal of landing an astronaut on the Moon.

For the first time in China, the general public was allowed to attend the launch to watch live, however a limited amount of tickets were sold for about $119 USD each. And unfortunately for the crowd, heavy clouds shielded the view of the rocket shortly after liftoff.

Chang’E-1 launched in 2007, and orbited the Moon for 16 months before being intentionally crashed on to the lunar surface.

China launched its first manned flight into low-Earth orbit in 2003; and two more followed, with the most recent one in 2008.