Long March 3C rocket carrying China’s second unmanned lunar probe, Chang’e II, lifts off from the launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province, at 18:59:57 (Beijing time) on Oct. 1, 2010. (credit: Xinhua/Li Gang)

China launched its second unmanned lunar probe, Chang’e-2 on Friday, inaugurating the second phase of a three-step moon mission, which will culminate in a soft-landing on the moon.

At 6:59:57 p.m., the satellite blasted off on a Long March 3C carrier rocket from No. 2 launch tower at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

“Chang’e-2 lays foundation for the soft-landing on the moon and further exploration of outer space,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar orbiter project.

Chang’e-2 entered the orbit with a perigee of 200 kilometers and apogee of 380,000 kilometers as scheduled. There it separated from the carrier rocket.

It was the first time that a Chinese lunar probe directly entered the earth-moon transfer orbit without orbiting the earth first.

Chang’e-2 entered the orbit with a perigee of 200 kilometers and apogee of 380,000 kilometers.

“It is a major breakthrough of the rocket design, as it saves energy used by the satellite and speeds up the journey to the lunar orbit,” said Pang Zhihao, a researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology.

The lunar satellite is expected to take about 112 hours, or almost five days, to arrive at its lunar orbit, faster than the 12 days taken by the Chang’e-1 three years ago.

“It travels faster and closer to the moon, and it will capture clear pictures,” Wu said.

The control center declared the launch a success, after the solar panels of the lunar probe were unfolded and the satellite began to use solar energy for power supply.

Thousands of people witnessed the event from a venue 4 kilometers away from the launch pad. Residents at downtown of Xichang fired fireworks to celebrate the successful launch.

Chang’e-2, named after a legendary Chinese goddess of moon, will orbit 100 kilometers above the moon, compared with 200 kilometers for Chang’e-1.

The satellite will be maneuvered into an orbit just 15 kilometer above the moon. At that point, Chang’e-2 will take pictures of the planned landing area of the Chang’e-3 with a resolution of 1.5 meters. The resolution on Chang’e-1′s camera was 120 meters.

The launch vehicle for the satellite, China’s Long March 3C rocket, is 54.84 meters long with a lift-off weight of 345 tonnes. The delivery capacity of the rocket is 3.8 tonnes.

Total expenditure for the Chang’e-2 mission is about 900 million yuan (134.33 million U.S. dollars).

The final destiny of Chang’e-2, which has a designed life of six months, had not been decided, Wu said. It may crash on the moon for further experiment, or fly into further outer space, or return to the earth orbit, Wu said.

Flying to the moon is the nation’s long cherished dream, as Chang’e has been worshipped as the “moon lady” for thousands of years. Legend has it that she floated toward the sky and finally landed on the moon after taking a bottle of elixir, where she became a goddess accompanied by a jade rabbit.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, in October 2007, marking a milestone in the country’s space exploration.

After orbiting for 494 days and a controlled crash on the lunar surface, Chang’e-1 sent back 1.37 terabytes of data, producing China’s first complete moon picture. The data has been shared with other countries for free.

China’s ambitious three-stage moon mission will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012 in the second phase. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.

China has no plan or timetable for a manned moon landing for now, Wu added.

China became the third country after Russia and the United States to send a person into space in 2003.

Two more manned space missions followed with the most recent in 2008 involving China’s first human space walk.

Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff
Source: http://www.xinhuanet.com/english2010/special/change2/index.htm

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