Wednesday, May 11, 2011

China plans to build lunar research base

Under China's three-phase lunar probe plans for orbiting the moon, landing on the moon and returning back to Earth, China is scheduled to launch the Chang'e-3 and softly land it on the moon, where it will release a moon rover to explore the lunar surface, by 2013.

China will carry out an unmanned lunar landing around 2017 before making manned lunar landings and building research bases on the moon, said Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of China's lunar probe program, in Shanghai on May 9.

Ouyang made the remarks during the opening ceremony of the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

He said that the Chang'e-2 has operated safely for 200 days as of May 1. During the operation of the Chang'e-2 in space, four tiny cameras on the satellite recorded clear photographs, marking China's first-ever aerospace application of CMOS imaging technologies, first space surveillance engineering application, first photograph captured at the moment of igniting the 490N engine and first photograph of the Earth taken by a camera on an orbiting lunar orbiter.

However, is the ultimate mission of the Chang'e-2 to test soft-landing technologies for the Chang'e-3 or to test Earth reentry technologies for follow-up Chang'e series satellites after their lunar landings? Ouyang said that the ultimate mission of the Chang'e-3 Satellite has yet to be determined. Whatever mission is selected, the Chang'e-2 will test key technologies for follow-up tasks of Chang'e series satellites before completing its lunar trip.

For instance, the Chang'e-2 can either make a "pilot" soft-landing in order to test technologies for the Chang'e-3 or return to Earth orbit under ground control and simulate the return of future Chang'e series satellites to earth after 2013.

Ouyang said that the Chang'e-3 will be equipped with a 70-kilogram lander and a 120-kilogram moon rover. The satellite will weigh about 500 kilograms and will have a designed life of three months. As the intelligent robotic technology develops, the rover will be able to determine its own routes, climb slopes, avoid obstacles and pick a good spot to perform science experiments with a collection of sensors. Furthermore, it will even be capable of collecting samples from the moon and sending them back to Earth for further studies.

Ouyang said that China plans to send recoverable rovers and humans to the moon at appropriate times. In addition, China is also considering building a research base on the moon and exploring Mars and other parts of outer space. To achieve its goal, the country is building a new satellite launch center and is making great efforts to develop more advanced rocket engines.

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