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Moon-bound probe makes giant leap for space program

(China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-04 07:24
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BEIJING - A trajectory correction has put China's second unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e-2, on course for the moon, according to a flight control official in Beijing.

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A second adjustment to the vehicle's course was contemplated for Sunday afternoon but cancelled when it became clear the first correction, on Saturday, was successful after scientists activated the attitude control engines and trimmed the satellite for the first time on its journey. "During Chang'e-2's 380,000-kilometer journey to the moon, we will conduct more orbit corrections, if necessary, to ensure that it enters a lunar orbit," said Ma Yongping, vice-director of the flight control center.

Chang'e-2 blasted off on a Long-March-3C carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in Southwest China's Sichuan province, at about 7 pm on Friday.

Chang'e-2 became China's first unmanned spacecraft to be boosted from the launch site directly to the earth-moon transfer orbit, something that greatly reduces the journey time in comparison to that of its predecessor, Chang'e-1.

Chang'e-1 took about 13 days to reach a lunar orbit, after first circling the Earth in a geosynchronous orbit and then transferring to the Earth-moon transfer orbit.

Chang'e-2 is expected to travel for about 112 hours - almost five days - before arriving in its lunar orbit.

To acquire more detailed moon data, Chang'e-2 will enter a lower lunar orbit - initially about 100 km above the surface - compared to the 200-km altitude of Chang'e-1, according to the control center.

The satellite will eventually be maneuvered into an orbit just 15 km above the moon. At that point, Chang'e-2 will take pictures of the Bay of Rainbows area, the proposed landing site for Chang'e-3.

The photos will have a resolution of 1.5 meters.

Resolution on Chang'e-1's camera was 120 meters, said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar orbiter project.

Foreign scholars and media organizations applauded China's space exploration program after its successful launch of Chang'e-2.

American national security affairs expert Joran Johnson-Freese said China clearly has two very significant and well-organized space exploration programs in Chang'e and Shenzhou, with Chang'e focusing on robotic exploration of the moon and Shenzhou on human space flight.

John M. Logsdon, a professor emeritus on political science and international affairs, said China's second mission beyond low Earth orbit will give it more experience in the difficult task of robotic exploration.

"The moon is important in China's culture and beliefs, and thus is an important symbolic destination," said Logsdon, a former director of the Space Policy Institute.

By developing its lunar probe program, China was joining "with the United States, the former Soviet Union, Japan and India. Going to the moon is a mark of a leading space program", he said.

The launch also attracted wide attention from foreign media.

And it kicked off the second phase of a three-step moon mission, which is set to culminate in a soft-landing on the moon.

The Associated Press said the launch of Chang'e-2 was the latest milestone for an ambitious space program that aims to put a man on the moon this decade.

The probe will be used to test technology in preparation for an unmanned moon landing in 2012, with the possible manned lunar mission following in 2017, the report said.

Reuters said a successful Chang'e-2 mission would mark another advance in China's plan to establish itself as a space power in the same league as the United States and Russia.

China Daily - Xinhua