China / Innovation

New engine passes test and revs up space hopes

By Xin Dingding (China Daily) Updated: 2012-07-30 01:58

Lunar mission will explore moon's surface and bring back samples

A next-generation engine, that will pave the way for lunar exploration, was successfully tested on Sunday.

The engine, with a 120-ton-thrust using liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene, will enable the Long March 5 carrier rocket — which is expected to make its maiden voyage in 2014 — to place a 25-ton payload into near-Earth orbit, or place a 14-ton payload into geostationary orbit, experts said.

The tests, which included seeing how the engine would respond to rotational speeds of nearly 20,000 revolutions per minute and temperatures of 3,000 C for

200 seconds, were held in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.

"The successful tests confirm the reliability of China's LOX/kerosene engine,"

said Lai Daichu, test commander.

Tan Yonghua, head of Xi'an Aerospace Propulsion Institute under the China Aerospace Science and

Technology Corp, which developed the engine, said that the single engine currently used by Long March carrier rockets only has a 75-ton thrust, much less than the 120-ton thrust of the new engine.

Luan Xiting, deputy head of the institute, said that the new engine's extra thrust will enable China to assemble a space station and also help with the third stage of the lunar exploration program.

The three stages involve orbit, landing and return.

Earlier reports said that the Chang'e-5 lunar explorer will bring about 2 kg of lunar samples to Earth.

Ouyang Ziyuan, a senior consultant in the lunar exploration program and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that Chang'e-5 will be launched atop the Long March 5 carrier rocket from the new space launch center in Wenchang, Hainan province, which is under construction.

The space program is in the second stage, with three lunar exploration spacecraft, Chang'e 2, Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4.

Ouyang said in a recent e-mail reply to China Daily that China will launch its third lunar explorer, Chang'e 3, next year to land on the moon.

A rover will explore its surroundings.

The landing is expected to be the most challenging part of the mission, he said.

Chang'e 3 will hover about 4 meters above the lunar surface.

Then the engine will cut out, and the Chang'e 3 will drop onto the surface.

Space: Rover can see under the surface

As for the rover, the leading scientist in lunar exploration said it is "China's most advanced robot".

The rover carries a lunar "radar" and while it is operating on the surface it can scan several hundred meters under the surface.

The rover also carries instruments that can detect minerals.

To combat nighttime temperatures, -180 C, scientists have developed nuclear-powered batteries that can help the lander and rover function.

They will conserve energy by "hibernating'' and when the sun rises the solar energy will "wake" the lander and the rover, he said.

Ouyang said the second lunar orbiter, Chang'e 2, has traveled to explore an asteroid.

The asteroid, 4179 Toutatis, is listed as a potentially hazardous object by scientists because it makes frequent Earth fly pasts.

Prior to traveling into deep space, Chang'e 2, launched in October 2010, completed its six-month mission and spent 235 days some 1.5 million km from Earth, where it gathered a large amount of scientific data about solar activity, he said.

It started its quest for the asteroid on April 15, and is expected to observe the asteroid close up, he said.

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