First Images From Chang’E 2 Released

A lunar crater in stunning detail from the Chang'E 2 orbiter. Credit: CNSA / China Lunar Exploration Program

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China’s space agency released the first images taken by the newest lunar orbiter, Chang’E 2. “The relaying back of the pictures shows that the Chang’e-2 mission is a success,” said Zhang Jiahao, director of the lunar exploration center of the China National Space Administration.

During its expected 6-month mission the orbiter will come within 15km above the surface, with the main mission of looking for potential landing for Chang’E-3, China’s next lunar mission that will send a rover to the Moon’s surface, scheduled for 2013. While all the other images are of Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows), a rough translation of the writing on this top image has something to do with “antarctic,” so its possible this could be a crater near one of the lunar poles.

This 3-D map view of the moon’s Bay of Rainbows was taken by China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe in October 2010. The mission is China’s second robotic mission to explore the moon. Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program

The data for this 3D image was taken by a the spacecraft’s stereo camera from 18.7 km on Oct. 28, four days after launch. The image has a resolution of 1.3 meters per pixel, more than ten times the resolution of pictures from Chang’E 2’s predecessor, Chang’E 1.

For comparison, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has a resolution of about 1 meter.

Sinus Iridum is considered to be one of the candidates for the 2013 lander.

Chang’E 2 will also test “soft landing” technology for the lander, which might mean that either the spacecraft is carrying an impactor or that the spacecraft itself will be crashed into the lunar surface like Chang’E 1.

This photo, taken by China’s Chang’e 2 lunar probe in October 2010, shows a crater in the moon’s Bay of Rainbows. . Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program
Another Chang'E 2 image. Credit: Credit: China Lunar Exploration Program

Sources: NASA Lunar Science Institute, China National Space Administration

China Launches Second Moon Mission

China successfully launched their second robotic mission, Chang’E-2, to the Moon. A Long March 3C rocket blasted off from Xichang launch center just before 1100 GMT on October 1. The satellite is scheduled to reach the Moon in five days, and so far, all the telemetry shows everything to be working as planned. It will take some time for Chang’E-2 to settle into its 100-km (60-mile) orbit above the lunar surfaces, although the China space agency also said the spacecraft will come as close as 15km above the surface during its mission in order to take high-resolution imagery of potential landing sites for Chang’E-3, China’s next lunar mission that will send a rover to the Moon’s surface, scheduled for 2013.
Continue reading “China Launches Second Moon Mission”

Two Chinese Satellites Rendezvous in Orbit

The six SJ-06 series satellites in Earth orbit. Credit: The Space Review

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Data from the US military shows that two Chinese satellites likely performed multiple rendezvous 600 kilometers above Earth this summer, and may have even bumped into each other. The rendezvous have taken place over the past several months, between two Chinese “Shi Jian” (Practice) spacecraft, SJ-06F and SJ-12, that are officially listed as science satellites.

News of the Chinese satellite encounters was first reported by a Russian news source in mid-August, and this week Brian Weeden from the Secure World Foundation wrote an extensive article for The Space Review.

Weeden said the maneuvers could be a rehearsal for the technology needed to build a space station, but it also shows China may now have the ability to approach and potentially interfere with other satellites.
“On-orbit rendezvous is a complex operation, and one that has only been done a few of times before, most notably by the US satellite XSS-11,” Weeden wrote, “which inspected the rocket body that placed it in LEO, and one of the US MiTEx satellites, which inspected the failed DSP-23 satellite in GEO. The rendezvous of two Chinese satellites demonstrates that China is broadening its space capabilities, but also touches on the greater issue of perceptions, trust, and safety in space activities that could impact the long-term sustainability of the space regime.”

Weeden said US military data suggests that one satellite may have been bumped and its orbit altered slightly on August 19. The change in its orbit can’t be explained by the usual things that affect satellites, such as the drag from the Earth’s atmosphere.

In January 2007, China destroyed a derelict satellite with a ballistic missile, which the US also did in February 2008.

For now, one can only speculate about the reasons for China performing these types of difficult and rare maneuvers with their satellites. You can read more about the technical nature of the events on The Space Review.

China Plans for Big Year in Space

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China is hoping to launch 15 rockets, 17 satellites and its third manned mission in 2008. This is an ambitious manifest for any country, and it appears China hopes to take its global emergence to new heights in a year in which it will also host the summer Olympics.

No details were provided regarding specific dates or the types of unmanned missions that will be launched this year. The secretary-general of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, Huang Qiang, revealed the planned launches at a news conference on January 7, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

However, Chinese media reported earlier that the China National Space Administration plans to launch its third manned mission, Shenzhou VII sometime in October, and reportedly the mission will include a space walk. In 2003, China became only the third country to put a human into space using its own rocket, following the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2005 the Shenzhou VI rocket sent two Chinese astronauts on a five-day flight.

Xinhua quoted Huang as saying the Shenzhou VII was a major task for the year and called for full cooperation between all departments involved.

China successfully launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e 1 in October 2007. The spacecraft is now successfully in lunar orbit and it returned its first images of the lunar surface in late November 2007. Chang’e 1 is also obtaining 3-D pictures of the moon and mapping surface elements. This was the beginning of their “step by step” program of exploring the moon. China hopes to deploy a lunar lander for surface exploration of the moon in 2012, and attempt a lunar sample return mission in 2017.

China will also mount a joint effort with Russia to explore Mars in 2009.

Original News Source: Reuters