October 29, 2007 The Chang’e-1 spacecraft successfully blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, Sichuan, atop a Long March 3A rocket last week bound for lunar orbit. The launch by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), is China’s first step in a program that aims to land robotic explorers on the Moon before 2020.

The purpose of the Chang’e-1 (named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon) mission is to complete four key goals: making three-dimensional images of lunar landforms and outline maps of major lunar geological structures; analyzing up to 14 chemical elements and their distribution across the lunar surface; measuring the depth of the lunar soil; and exploring the space weather between the Earth and the Moon. To perform its mission objectives, Chang’e-1 carries a variety of instruments: a CCD stereo camera, a laser altimeter, an imaging interferometer, a gamma-ray/X-ray spectrometer, a microwave radiometer, a high-energy particle detector, and a solar wind particle detector.

Weighing in at 2350 kg (more than 5000 pounds), Chang’e-1 will operate from a low, circular lunar orbit, just 200 km (124 miles) above the surface of the Moon. It will perform its science mission for a full year and represents the first phase in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP). The next step next will involve a lunar lander and associated rover and plans are also being drawn up for a sample return mission to bring lunar rocks to Earth for analysis.

The mission is taking place in collaboration with the European Space Agency and will allow the two agencies to share data and encourage a visitors’ program so that researchers can learn from each other. Specifically the ESA provided the Chinese with details of its SMART-1 mission including the spacecraft's position and transmission frequencies as part of the build-up to the Chang’e-1 launch.

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