The probe Chang'e-3 was launched into orbit aboard an enhanced 56.4 meter high Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. Official broadcaster CCTV showed in live footage of the textbook launch. The probe successfully entered the required orbit, CCTV said. (Agencies)
The mission was the 25th launch of the Long March-3B, which is the most powerful launch vehicle in the Long March fleet. Chang'e-3 comprises a lander and a Moon rover called "Yutu" (Jade Rabbit). In Chinese folklore, a white rabbit was the pet of Moon goddess Chang'e.
The lunar probe will land on the Moon in mid-December if everything goes according to plan, official media reported. Tasks for Yutu include surveying the Moon's geological structure and surface substances, while looking for natural resources.
So far, only the US and the former Soviet Union have soft-landed on the Moon. After entering lunar orbit, Chang'e-3 will go through six stages of deceleration to descend from 15-km above to the lunar surface. It is first time China is attempting soft landing on a celestial body and also the first time any lunar soft landing is being carried out since 1976, when other countries suspended exploration, said Li Benzheng, deputy commander in chief of the lunar exploration programme.
India's Chandrayaan-1, which was credited to have discovered water in the lunar surface made a hard landing on the Moon. Using data collected by Chandrayaan mission, NASA scientists have detected magmatic water locked under the surface of the Moon.
Coincidentally China's Chang'e-3 will be heading to Moon while India's Mangalayan orbiter cruised to Mars after leaving Earth's orbit last night. Earlier, Li congratulated India on its successful launch of a mission to Mars. He said China is not competing with any other country, but it is interested in peaceful advancements.
Mangalayaan's launch also set off editorial comments in the official media here whether India stole the march over China's well developed expansive space programme with a considerably low budget of USD 73 million. The soft-landing processes of the US and former Soviet Union's unmanned spacecraft had no capacity to hover or avoid obstacles, while Chang'e-3 can accurately survey land forms and identify the safest spots on which to land, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Chinese scientists as saying.
In order to land quickly, the probe is equipped with high-precision, fast-response sensors to analyze its motion and surroundings. The variable thrust engine made locally can generate up to 7,500 newtons of thrust, it said. After touching down on the Moon's surface, the unmanned craft will release roving vehicle 'Yutu'. 'Yutu' will roam the Moon's surface to learn more about Earth's satellite, Li said. The rover, equipped with four cameras, will patrol the surface for at least three months.
If it explores the edge of the crater, it will identify material that originated deep below the surface and provide new clues about the moon's history by digging about 100 meters, space officials said. Also for the first time China would establish a telescope on the moon to observe the earth, state-run CCTV said. "The lander will open a new age in space exploration by China," Li said.
Tasks for Yutu include surveying the moon's geological structure and surface substances, while looking for natural resources. "More than 80 percent of the technology adopted in the mission is new, and with new technology and products carrying out new tasks, there are certainly great risks," Li said.
The Chang'e-3 mission is the second phase of China's lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth. It follows the success of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010. The country expects to have an unmanned spacecraft return with lunar samples by 2020, the CCTV report said.
China, which is currently building its own space station, plans to send manned mission to Moon by 2025 or so. Although the previous duo laid the foundation for the current mission, Chinese scientists still have limited knowledge of the moon, Li said.
Of the 129 lunar explorations conducted by various countries, 49 percent failed, Li said, citing his agency's analysis. "This indicates that explorations do, indeed, carry significant risks," he said.
To ensure the success of this mission, tracking and control networks have been set up in areas including China's northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and northeastern Heilongjiang province. Their capabilities are close to the current world standard, Li said.
"The Chang'e-3 mission makes best use of a plethora of innovative technology. It is an extremely difficult mission that carries great risk," Ma Xingrui, chief commander of the lunar program, told Xinhua News Agency in September.
Chinese scientists have built an experimental landing site in Beijing to test the functions of the lander, and they have simulated moon-surface locomotion of the rover, Li said.
"We have conducted large numbers of tests in each stage to avoid perils, and have contingency plans based on these tests...but after all, it's our soft-landing on the moon, so there are certain risks," he said.
The probe Chang'e-3 was launched into orbit aboard an enhanced 56.4 meter high Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. Official broadcaster CCTV showed in live footage of the textbook launch. The probe successfully entered the required orbit, CCTV said.