September 30, 2010
China’s ambitions in space are often exaggerated and held up as a threat to U.S. preeminence in the field, mostly as a scare tactic to shake more money for NASA out of Congress. A lot of the huffing and puffing you can safely ignore. But the Chinese have made solid progress over the last decade in both human and robotic spaceflight, and tomorrow will send a second, more sophisticated Chang’e orbiter to the moon, onboard a Long March rocket fired from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
A few improvements over Chang’e-1, which operated from 2007 to 2009: The lunar pictures will be 10 to 20 times sharper, with resolutions down to five meters. The trip to the moon will be more direct, with no transitional parking orbit around Earth. And the data rate will be higher. Basically, it’s the same mission, only better.
Chang’e-2 will be scouting locations for China’s first lander/rover, Chang’e-3, currently scheduled to launch by 2013. After that, the nation has plans for a lunar sample return mission sometime around 2017 or 2018.
Full coverage of the Chang’e-2 launch is at China Central TV.
Update, 7: 45 EST, October 1: Chang’e 2 launched successfully and is headed for the moon.
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