China announces plans for 2013 Moon landing
The Chinese news agency Xinhua announced on July 31, 2012, that China will be sending its first unmanned lander to the Moon in the second half of 2013. Chang’e-3 will be the third lunar probe launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the first attempt at a landing. The lander/rover combination will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan province as part of China’s continuing Lunar Exploration program.
Named after a Chinese goddess of the moon, Chang’e-3 is the third in the Chang’e series. The previous were the lunar orbiters Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, which were launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively. The 2013 mission, consisting of a lander and an autonomous rover, is scheduled to land on the Moon at the Sinus Iridum (“Bay of Rainbows”), a plain of basaltic lava situated at latitude 44 degrees north that forms a northwestern extension to the Mare Imbrium. The mission duration is expected to be three months.
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The rover component of the mission is a six-wheeled machine weighing 120 kg (260 lb) and carries a payload of 20 kg (44 lb). It’s powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which the CNSA says will allow the rover to operate during the lunar night. More importantly, it keeps the electronics from freezing and destroying the batteries, leaving a dead rover at sun up, which is what killed at least one Soviet rover. The rover can transmit real-time video, has a surface-analyzing radar and can collect and analyze soil samples.
The 100 kg (200 lb) lander is more than just a means of setting down the rover safely. It carries a suite of instruments of its own, including an astronomical telescope with extreme ultraviolet camera. China claims this will be the first lunar observatory in history.