Updates "Hi Artemis, it's been a long time!": China's Chang'e 3 lunar landing mission

Cosmic Penguin

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"Hi Artemis, it's been a long time!": China's Chang'e 3 lunar landing mission

Most members here will probably be familiar of the very long time lunar landing gap since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt stepped on the Moon in December 1972, one that is still being lengthened and mourned by spaceflight fans worldwide. Yet there is another "lunar gap" that has an even more significance, only slightly shorter and not so well known.

Many of you guys may have tried to land something on the Moon in Orbiter, but do you know that no man made object has made a non-destructive landing (or has been working on the surface) on our nearest cosmic neighbor since the Luna 24 sample return unit fired towards Siberia in August 1976, 36.5 years ago? :eek:h: Despite a renaissance of lunar science missions in the past decade, no probe has made the journey through the last dozens of kilometers to the Moon surface.

Until now.

As destiny has fallen, the burden to end the 37 year long drought of lunar surface in-situ research fell to the Chinese. And they certainly make this a pretty big affair - they are bringing a large lander and a medium sized rover to the lunar surface!

In late 2013 (probably October, although this definitely isn't concrete yet) the pair of robots will head for Brighton Beach, errr actually a few dozen kilometers east of where it should be, on a lava-filled old crater basin that has the rather intriguing name of Sinus Iridum (the Bay of Rainbows). The lander will use the conventional method of thrusting and hovering to gently lower its altitude until it touches down on the lunar surface about three days after departing the hills of south-western China. After it touches down, the rover will roll down the lander ramp and explore around the landing site for what will hopefully be a fruitful year on the Moon.

Both the lander and the rover carries interesting equipment: other than the standard ones (cameras on both, plus a soil probe on the lander, infrared and x-ray spectrometers on the rover), some of them will try out unprecedented observation from the lunar surface. On the lander there is a telescope operating in the near ultraviolet range that will attempt the first astronomical observation of celestial objects from the lunar surface on a prolonged basis, as well as another ultraviolet spectrometer that will observe the Earth's ionosphere and magnetic field variations from a lunar perspective. On the rover there is also a ground penetration radar that will probe the lunar surface and soil structure down to several hundred meters deep.

Both of them have almost completed all preliminary testing, and final integration has already begun. Let's hope that this is only just the beginning of continuous lunar surface exploration for a long, long time!

(although those teams trying to shoot for the Google Lunar X-prize may be unhappy about that, because if CE-3 successfully lands on the Moon their awards will be cut by half! None of the teams are ready for the lunar shot until late next year)

As this is an updates thread, I'll provide these links for some early reading:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=26848.0

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chang%27e_3

http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=3105

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Good luck! :hailprobe:
 

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Very exciting news indeed!
 

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Not a lot has happened since my first post - the spacecraft is still under final testing so news are rather sparse. However I have got some photos of the real thing entering a thermal test chamber in late April:

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Cosmic Penguin

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I have found out that the launch is now scheduled on December 1st at around 17:00 UTC! The much anticipated landing may come on around December 14, just as the sun rises over Sinus Iridium (and Brighton Beach :p).
 

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In other news, the name for the rover is now down to the last ten - the finalists sounds pretty NASA-esque if you ask me....

* Yutu (Jade Rabbit, a.k.a the Moon Rabbit)
* Tansuo (Explorer/Exploration)
* Lanyue (literally "to pull the Moon into one's arm", probably best translated as the Moon-hugger ;D)
* Qian Xuesen (Tsien Hsue-shen)
* Zhuimeng (Dreamchaser :) )
* Xunmeng (Dream-seeker)
* Zhuiyue (Moonchaser)
* Mengxiang (Dream)
* Shiming (Mission/Destiny ;))
* Qianjin (Forward/Progress :p)

Given that many of the names has meanings that were already taken by famous spacecrafts, I'll go with the Moon Rabbit - I guess even if it loses it will become its nickname anyway. ;D

Cast your votes here! The initial down-selection voting to the final 3 names ends on Thursday, so don't miss out!
 

Cosmic Penguin

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1 month to launch, and why am I so interested in this mission

The end of the 2nd and most probably the final "dark ages" on the Moon is neigh! For around this moment of time is the point of T - 1 month of Chang'e 3.

Needless to say I am very excited for waiting this mission to happen, not only because it's China's most ambitious planetary exploration mission ever (I think this, along with the Shenzhou 5 mission, marks the most important milestones of Chinese spaceflight history), but because it will mark the end of a 37+ year drought of no human-made machines working on the lunar surface, which I call the "Second Dark Ages of Luna". Consider this: the last spacecraft to work on the lunar surface was the Luna 24 sample return mission in August 1976 - at a time when humans have just put the first successful Mars lander (Viking 1 landed just one month earlier) and that even Saturn has not been visited by a spacecraft yet!

Yet I believe this will be the last long period of time with no exploration activity on the Moon, for spaceflight is ever slightly becoming more affordable, and with the relighted interest in lunar exploration from governments and even from the commercial side (Google Lunar X-prize et al.), even in the worst case I can still see a steady stream of landers and rovers working on the dark poles and geologically interesting areas over the next decades. And that's assuming that no-one is taking our footsteps back on our nearest cosmic neighbor.

So expect me to report in details about this space exploration milestone at least throughout to the New Year if all thing goes the right way! :cheers: :hailprobe:
 

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What I'm also equally as interested in is how the United States might react to seeing photograph of a Chinese flag backdropped by the surface of the moon and perhaps even the Earth. Maybe it might cause uproar and stir the competitive juices in the US, maybe it'll be brushed off? Who knows.

I really am hoping that the Chinese get a successful flight out of this, I'll be watching it very closely.
 

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Well the spacecraft processing has been very, very quiet (maybe because they are very tense on making all things working right - see the reaction for SpaceX's PAO for the last few months), but I can't believe it - it's just one week to go from the launch itself! :banana:
 

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There's a rumored launch and landing time right now! :yes:

Launch: December 1 @ ~17:25 UTC
LOI: December 6 @ ~02:30 UTC
Landing: December 16 (probably ~12:30 UTC)

Less than 90 hours to liftoff!
 
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I wonder if LADEE has enough time to fully characterize the lunar atmospheric environment as planned before Chang'e 3 arrives so soon. LADEE's mission is only planned to last three months, which is not much time for the added gas and dust particles to settle. The issue seems to be more of a benefit to NASA's mission, which leads to another article on the topic.

The Planetary Society: "Chang'e 3 may launch December 1 with Yutu rover, will not harm LADEE mission"
Chang'e 3's landing (scheduled for December 16) will be about six weeks in to LADEE's dust-monitoring mission. LADEE is studying a lunar atmosphere and dust environment that has been disturbed very little since the last Apollo and Luna landings, and Chang'e 3's landing will definitely have an effect that LADEE will be able to detect. Isn't this a problem for LADEE?

Well, it's sort of a problem, but it's more of an opportunity. (Yes, a "crisitunity.") Paul Spudis actually explained this very well in a blog post two months ago (thanks to Richard Elphic for the link):
[...]
 

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The launch time has been confirmed as tomorrow at 17:30 UTC (12:30 pm EST/9:30 am PST/1:30 am local Monday)!

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Detailed reports of what science explorations it will do and the mission's time line from liftoff to after landing will come later today. :tiphat:
 

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Today's news reports from CCTV: (all in Chinese unfortunately, but I am sure that the animations are worth looking for; maybe someone here can help digging out the English reports?)





 
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