Book Review: The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon

I like hiking. Particularly, I like wandering in places I’ve never been before. Sometimes only a map, a compass and a good sense of direction gets me returning to where I began.

Many people on Earth enjoy this simple pleasure. But what to do if you’re on the Moon?

Well, assuming you’ve got the right equipment, like a spacesuit, then all you’d need is a good map because, of course, compasses aren’t of much use. So which map do you use? Well, take a look at “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. This lovely, featured book will have you easily finding your way about the lunar surface.

“An atlas?” I hear you asking. “Who’s going to sit down and read an atlas?”  Good question, as I didn’t think I would either, but I definitely will use this book.

For me, a good atlas allows me to understand the shape of the land; almost to feel the topology without actually being there. When I hike, I use maps to find interesting outlooks, amazing drop-offs or dry land between swamps. On the Moon we certainly don’t have to worry about water features. But there are many other features that are at least interesting enough to warrant a particular nomenclature according to the International Astronomical Union. This book includes eleven of such nomenclatures.

For instance, there are the very dry Oceani, the Maria that hint at water courses, circular craters with astoundingly sharp edges and the knife edge rimae that slice along. How do I know of these descriptions? Simple. I look at the maps in the book. There are 188 maps each on their own page; all of them presenting an equal and fine finishing. And they include the complete Moon surface, with a space resolution of 500m, a horizontal accuracy of 192m and vertical of 120m. Actually, that’s most of the book. There’s an appendix. It includes a list of 3,698 features placed on the maps with each feature having; its name, its latitude, its longitude, its size in kilometres and its page. With this appendix, one can quickly and easily find the common lunar geographic features. There are a few pages of introduction. And that’s all. It’s just like an atlas should be; straightforward, simple and to the point.

I bet you’re wondering about where the data came from? The title says it all. It’s from China’s Chang’E-1 probe. This book is a re-issue in English of their initial production of 2012. Nicely located in the preamble is a description of the data processing. This includes specifications of the CCD camera, the characteristics of the probe’s orbit and the actual data processing. It’s apparently no mean feat, as the data came from a three-line array CCD stereo imager and resulted in the Mercator or Azimuthal projections. Some additional information is at this link (in English).

However, what’s most impressive for me is that this book shows that China is actively and capably adding to the scientific knowledge of space. Yet, in acknowledgement to lunar mapping already done, the authors included a very informative history of lunar mapping in the book’s preface. So you get to know both where this mapping data came from and where other data may be found.

In any case I suspect that you nor I will be going hiking on the Moon anytime soon. But perhaps you want to study lunar topography, lunar morphology or lunar geologic structures? Maybe you want to know where is the water that’s hiding on the Moon. I recommend “The Chang’E-1 Topographic Atlas of the Moon” by Chunlai Li, Jianjun Liu, Lingli Mu, Xin Ren and Wei Zuo. It may guide you to all sorts of interesting features and finds.

The book is available through Springer.

China Launches Moon Mission to Test Key Lunar Sample Return Technologies

China launched a robotic mission to the Moon today (Oct. 23 EDT/Oct. 24 BJT) that will test a slew of key technologies required for safely delivering samples gathered from the Moon’s surface and returning them to Earth later this decade for analysis by researchers.

Today’s unmanned launch of what has been dubbed “Chang’e-5 T1” is a technology testbed serving as a precursor for China’s planned Chang’e-5 probe, a future mission aimed at conducting China’s first lunar sample return mission in 2017.

“Chang’e-5 T1” was successfully launched atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket at 2 AM Beijing local time (BJT), 1800 GMT, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province.

“The test spacecraft separated from its carrier rocket and entered the expected the orbit shortly after the liftoff, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND),” says the official Xinhua news agency. The launch was not broadcast live.

The return capsule was placed on a lunar transfer trajectory that will take it on a simple eight day roundtrip flight around the Moon and journey back to Earth. The orbit had a perigee of 209 kilometers and will reach an apogee of some 380,000 kilometers and swing halfway around the Moon, but not enter lunar orbit.

Ignition and liftoff of the unmanned Chang'e 5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT).  Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing
Ignition and liftoff of the unmanned Chang’e-5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT). Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing

The probe was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The service module is based on China’s earlier Chang’e-2 spacecraft and the capsule somewhat resembles a mini-Shenzhou.

On its return, the probe will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at about 11.2 kilometers per second for reentry and a parachute assisted landing. The capsule is targeted to soft land in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The goal is to test and validate guidance, navigation and control, heat shield, and trajectory design technologies required for the sample return capsule’s safe re-entry following a lunar touchdown mission and collection of soil and rock samples from the lunar surface – planned for the Chang’e-5 mission.

Technicians at work testing the  Chang'e-5T1 return capsule. Credit: Spacechina.com
Technicians at work testing the Chang’e-5 T1 return capsule. Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation/ Spacechina.com

China hopes to launch the Chang’e-5 mission in 2017 as the third step in the nation’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

The first step involved a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 which launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

The second step involved the hugely successful Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu moon rover which safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) on Dec. 14, 2013 – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landing on an extraterrestrial body in history, and chronicled extensively in my reporting here.

This time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at two different positions during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-18, 2013. This view was taken from the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
This time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at two different positions during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-18, 2013. This view was taken from the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

See below our time-lapse photo mosaic showing China’s Yutu rover dramatically trundling across the Moon’s stark gray terrain in the first weeks after she rolled all six wheels onto the desolate lunar plains.

360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-22, 2013 during the 1st Lunar Day. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-22, 2013, during the 1st Lunar Day. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

The complete time-lapse mosaic shows Yutu at three different positions trekking around the landing site, and gives a real sense of how it maneuvered around on its 1st Lunar Day.

The 360 degree panoramic mosaic was created by the imaging team of scientists Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from images captured by the color camera aboard Chang’e-3 lander and was featured at Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb. 3, 2014.

Although Yutu was initially very successful, it encountered difficulties about six weeks after rolling onto the surface which prevented it from roving further across the surface and accomplishing some of its science objectives.

China’s space officials are currently evaluating whether they will proceed with launching the Chang’e-4 lunar landing mission in 2016, which was a backup probe to Chang’e-3.

China is pushing forward with plans to start building a manned space station later this decade and considering whether to launch astronauts to the Moon by the mid 2020s or later.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 26/27: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

China’s Maiden Moon Rover Mission Chang’e 3 Achieves Lunar Orbit

China’s maiden moon landing probe successfully entered lunar orbit on Friday, Dec. 6, following Sunday’s (Dec. 1) spectacular blastoff – setting the stage for the historic touchdown attempt in mid December.

Engineer’s at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) commanded the Chang’e 3 lunar probe to fire its braking thrusters for 361 seconds, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

The do or die orbital insertion maneuver proceeded precisely as planned at the conclusion of a four and a half day voyage to Earth’s nearest neighbor.

China’s ‘Yutu’ lunar lander is riding piggyback atop the four legged landing probe during the history making journey from the Earth to the Moon.

Liftoff of China’s first ever lunar rover on Dec. 2 local China time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: CCTV
Liftoff of China’s first ever lunar rover on Dec. 2 local China time (Dec. 1 EST) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: CCTV

The critical engine burn placed Chang’e 3 into its desired 100 kilometer (60 mi.) high circular orbit above the Moon’s surface at 5:53 p.m. Friday, Beijing Time (4:53 a.m. EST).

An engine failure would have doomed the mission.

Chang’e 3 is due to make a powered descent to the Moon’s surface on Dec. 14, firing the landing thrusters at an altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing in a preselected area called the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum region.

The Bay of Rainbows is a lava filled crater located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. It is 249 km in diameter.

The variable thrust engine can continuously vary its thrust power between 1,500 to 7,500 newtons, according to Xinhua.

The lander is equipped with terrain recognition equipment and software to avoid rock and boulder fields that could spell catastrophe in the final seconds before touchdown if vehicle were to land directly on top of them.

The voyage began with the flawless launch of Chang’e 3 atop China’s Long March 3-B booster at 1:30 a.m. Beijing local time, Dec. 2, 2013 (12:30 p.m. EST, Dec. 1) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in southwest China.

If successful, the Chang’e 3 mission will mark the first soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 24 sample return vehicle landed nearly four decades ago back in 1976.

Chang’e 3 targeted lunar landing site in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum
Chang’e 3 targeted lunar landing site in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum

The name for the ‘Yutu’ rover – which means ‘Jade Rabbit’ – was chosen after a special naming contest involving a worldwide poll and voting to select the best name.

‘Yutu’ stems from a Chinese fairy tale, in which the goddess Chang’e flew off to the moon taking her little pet Jade rabbit with her.

The six-wheeled ‘Yutu’ rover will be lowered in stages to the moon’s surface in a complex operation and then drive off a pair of landing ramps to explore the moon’s terrain.

Yutu measures 150 centimeters high and weighs approximately 120 kilograms.

The rover and lander are equipped with multiple cameras, spectrometers, an optical telescope, radar and other sensors to investigate the lunar surface and composition.

Spectacular view of Chang’e 3 thruster firings after separation from upper stage with Earth in the background. Credit: CCTV
Spectacular view of Chang’e 3 thruster firings after separation from upper stage with Earth in the background. Credit: CCTV

Chang’e 3 marks the beginning of the second phase of China’s lunar robotic exploration program.

The lander follows a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e 1 and 2 which launched in 2007 and 2010.

The next step will be an unmanned lunar sample return mission, perhaps by 2020.

China’s Chang’e 3 probe joins NASA’s newly arrived LADEE lunar probe which entered lunar orbit on Oct. 6 following a similarly spectacular night time blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Stay tuned here for continuing Chang’e 3, LADEE, MAVEN and MOM news and Ken’s SpaceX and MAVEN launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Chang’e 3, SpaceX, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Dec 10: “Antares ISS Launch from Virginia, Mars and SpaceX Mission Update”, Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

‘Space Class’ Among Aims of Chinese Taikonauts Who Left Earth Today

Riding atop a fiery Long March rocket, three taikonauts blasted off from Earth today (June 11) to kick off an expected 15-day mission in space that will include the first Chinese “space class” from orbit.

Shenzhou 10 departed the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 5:38 a.m. EDT (9:38 a.m. UTC), or 5:38 p.m. local time at the complex’s location in the Gobi desert. Aboard the spacecraft were one woman (Wang Yaping) and two men (Nie Haisheng and Zhang Xiaoguang). Their next destination is the Chinese Tiangong-1 station.

China has a young manned space program. The first spaceflight with people was just a decade ago, in October 2003, and this is the fifth crewed mission since that time.

While China’s government keeps its long-term ambitions fairly private, observers in the United States and China point to its robotic moon missions as evidence that China is considering a manned lunar mission in the coming decades.

Shenzhou 10’s ultimate destination, however, is the Earth-orbiting, nine-ton Tiangong-1. Like the early U.S. and Soviet space stations, the Chinese one is fairly small (a single module) and serves as an experimental testbed for space station work. Taikonauts also visited the space station during Shenzhou 9 in 2012.

The taikonauts have four main ambitions during the Shenzhou 10 mission, the China Manned Space Engineering government office stated:

– Launch crew and cargo aboard Shenzhou 10 and verify rendezvous and docking technology for the meeting with Tiangong-1;

– Further test Tiangong-1’s capabilities to support humans;

The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft and Long March 2F/Y10 carrier rocket at the launchpad in early June 2013. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering
The Shenzhou 10 spacecraft and Long March 2F/Y10 carrier rocket at the launchpad in early June 2013. Credit: China Manned Space Engineering

– Conduct several experiments (focusing on space adaptability, space operation ergonomics and unspecified space science work), perform maintenance and do a “space class” with students;

– To see how well the CMSE is performing on a systems basis.

“To further improve the safety, reliability and to be suitable for the specific requirements of this mission,” stated spokesperson Wu Ping, “partial technical alterations have been made in [the] Shenzhou 10 spaceship and Long March 2F Y10 rocket.

“During this mission,” she added, “taikonauts will change and repair some of the equipment and facilities in Tiangong-1 through on-orbit operations.”

In the first few hours after launch, the CMSE stated that all systems are performing normally.

“The Shenzhou 10 spaceship has accurately entered its orbit and the crew members [are] in good condition,” stated Zhang Youxia, chief commander of China’s manned space program.

The mission drew praise from China’s president, Xi Jinping, who sent the crew good wishes just before they left Earth.

An artist's rendering of the Tiangong-1 module, China's space station, which was launched to space in September, 2011.  To the right is a Shenzhou spacecraft, preparing to dock with the module. Image Credit: CNSA
An artist’s rendering of the Tiangong-1 module, China’s space station, which was launched to space in September, 2011. To the right is a Shenzhou spacecraft, preparing to dock with the module. Image Credit: CNSA

“You have made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves,” Xi told the crew, according to a BBC report.

“You have trained and prepared yourselves carefully and thoroughly, so I am confident in your completing the mission successfully. I wish you success and look forward to your triumphant return.”

China ultimately plans to launch a larger space station sometime around 2020, which would include several modules.

The European Space Agency is considering working more closely with China around that time, the BBC added, and some astronauts have already starting Chinese language training.

China Unveils High Resolution Global Moon Map

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Chinese scientists have assembled the highest resolution map ever created of the entire Moon and unveiled a series of global Moon images on Monday, Feb. 6.

The composite Lunar maps were created from over 700 individual images captured by China’s Chang’e-2 spacecraft and released by the country’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), according to reports from the state run Xinhua and CCTV new agencies.

“The map and images are the highest-resolution photos of the entirety of the Moon’s surface to be published thus far,” said Liu Dongkui, deputy chief commander of China’s lunar probe project, reports Xinhua.

Of course there are much higher resolution photos of numerous individual locations on the Moon taken from orbit by the spacecraft of other countries and from the surface by NASA’s Apollo lunar landing astronauts as well as unmanned Russian & American lunar landers and rovers.

China unveils High Resolution Global Moon map from Chang'e-2 Lunar Orbiter
Credit: China Space Program

Chang’e-2 is China’s second lunar probe and achieved orbit around our nearest neighbor in space in October 2010. It was launched on Oct. 1, 2010 and is named after a legendary Chinese moon goddess.

The images were snapped between October 2010 and May 2011 using a charge-coupled device (CCD) stereo camera as the spacecraft flew overhead in a highly elliptical orbit ranging from 15 km to 100 km altitude.

The Chang’e-2 maps have a resolution of 7 meters, which is 17 times greater than from China’s first lunar orbiter; Chang’e-1, launched in 2007.

Global Lunar Map from China’s Chang'e-2 Lunar Orbiter. Credit: China Space Program

In fact the maps are detailed enough that Chinese scientists were able to detect traces of the Apollo landers, said Yan Jun, chief application scientist for China’s lunar exploration project.


Chang’e-2 also captured high resolution photos of the “Sinus Iridum”area , or Bay of Rainbows, where China may land their next Moon mission. The camera had the ability to resolve features as small as 1 meter across at the lowest altitude.

The satellite left lunar orbit in June 2011 and is currently orbiting the moon’s second Lagrange Point (L2), located more than 1.5 million km away from Earth.

Chinese space program officials hope for a 2013 liftoff of the Chang’e-3 lunar rover, on what would be China’s first ever landing on another celestial body. China’s next step beyond the rover may be to attempt a lunar sample return mission in 2017.

Demonstrating the ability to successfully conduct an unmanned lunar landing is a key milestone that must be achieved before China can land astronauts on the Moon, perhaps within the next decade.

NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft recently achieved Lunar orbit over the New Year’s weekend. The duo of probes were just renamed as “Ebb and Flow” – the winning entries in an essay naming contest submitted by 4th Grade US students from Bozeman, Montana.

At this time NASA does not have the funding or an approved robotic lunar landing mission, due to severe budget cuts.And even worse NASA cuts will be announced shortly !

Russia hopes to send the Lunar Glob spacecraft to land on the Moon around 2015.

Since the United States has unilaterally scuttled its plans to return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface, it’s very possible that the next flag planted on the Moon by humans will be Chinese.