China sets its eyes on lunar exploration

September 19, 2012

Li Jiao
China correspondent, SciDev.Net

A session this morning on ‘Advances in China’s Lunar Exploration’ was introduced by China’s chief lunar exploration scientist and pioneer in astro-chemistry, Ouyang Zi-Yuan, also known as the ‘Father of Chang’E’ (Chinese unmanned lunar probe).

I have interviewed him many times in the past decade and found him to be a very nice, patient scientist. At the meeting he introduced the long-term plans for China’s lunar mission, Chang’E-1 and its scientific results, and Chang’E-2.

He also talked about some of the science behind China’s future lunar exploration.

Ouyang said that China’s unmanned lunar exploration programme has three steps: orbiting the moon (which took place in 2007); soft-landing on the moon (planned to take place between 2010 and 2013); and a mission to bring back samples from the Moon (planned for some time between 2015 and 2017).

Chang’e-2 (Wikimedia Commons/spacebabe)

Chang’E-1, the lunar orbiter mission, was successfully launched as scheduled on October 24, 2007. Its main objective was to detect and study scientific questions relating to the whole moon. It carried out topographical studies of the entire lunar surface. These led to the production of a three-dimensional map of lunar resources; the analysis of the distribution and abundance of major elements and minerals on the lunar surface; a survey of the moon’s ‘brightness temperature’ and other properties and a calculation of the thickness of the lunar regolith (material covering solid rock). The mission also probed the space environment around the moon.

Ouyang said that after launch, the Chang’E-1 orbiter took 13 days and 14 hours to complete its mission, clocking up a total flight distance of 2,090,000 km.

China’s lunar exploration in coming years will start around 2013 with the Chang’E-3, which will be a landing and roving exploration mission.

Ouyang said that the implementation of lunar orbiting, the lunar surface landing and rover exploration and the lunar sample return would all help to accumulate experience and to develop new technology for future manned lunar landing and lunar base construction.

This blog post is part of our TWAS 12th General Meeting blog, which takes place 18 and 21 September 2012, in Tianjin, China. To read news and analysis on South-South cooperation please visit our website.

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