[meteorite-list] Long March Rover Blasts Off with Chinese Lunar Rover (Chang'e 3/Yutu)
From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Sun, 1 Dec 2013 16:04:22 -0800 (PST)
Long March rocket blasts off with Chinese lunar rover
BY STEPHEN CLARK
December 1, 2013
A six-wheeled robotic rover named Yutu rode a Long March rocket into space
Sunday on China's first lunar landing mission, marking an auspicious start
to a four-day journey to the moon.
The Yutu rover, mounted on a stationary rocket-powered landing platform,
will touch down on the moon Dec. 14. If it makes it, the Chinese mission
will be the first spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the moon since
The lunar landing mission is named Chang'e 3, the third Chinese lunar
probe following a pair of orbiters launched in 2007 and 2010.
Packed with a ground-piercing radar, cameras, spectrometers and plutonium-powered
heaters, the rover lifted off at 1730 GMT (12:30 p.m. EST) Sunday from
the Xichang launching base in southern China's Sichuan province. Launch
occurred at 1:30 a.m. Beijing time Monday.
The liftoff was broadcast on Chinese state television.
The 185-foot-tall Long March 3B rocket ignited its eight liquid-fueled
first stage and booster engines and climbed away from its mountainous
launch pad, shedding the liquid-fueled boosters and first stage a few
A hydrazine-fueled second stage and hydrogen-fueled third stage propelled
the Chang'e 3 lander on a direct four-day trajectory to the moon, where
it will brake into orbit Dec. 6.
The robotic spacecraft separated from the Long March third stage at 1749
GMT (12:49 p.m. EST), drifting away from the rocket in spectacular live
video views beamed back to Earth from cameras affixed to the launcher.
The video showed the Chang'e 3 probe firing rocket thrusters. Plumes of
exhaust were illuminated by the sun as the craft flew into sunrise over
the Pacific Ocean.
The spacecraft deployed its four landing legs and power-generating solar
panels a few minutes later, and officials at the Beijing Aerospace Control
Center declared the launch a success.
"On behalf of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and the command headquarters,
I would like to extend my gratitude to all those who have been part of
the project," said Zhang Zhenzhong, director of the Xichang launch base.
"And my thanks also go to all the friends who have been helping us throughout
the whole process.
"The Chang'e probe is on the way to the moon. Of course, it's a symbol
of China's national power and prowess," Zhang said in post-launch remarks
translated into English on China's state-run television.
Over the next few days, Chang'e 3 will adjust its path toward the moon
three times to set up for a critical rocket burn to enter lunar orbit
Landing on the moon is scheduled for Dec. 14 in a region known as Bay
of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum, on the upper-left part of the moon as viewed
Many of the mission's specifications and objectives remained secret until
the week of launch, when China rolled out details in a press briefing
and through official state-owned media outlets.
The lander carries a bipropellant rocket engine designed to adjust its
power level and pivot to control the probe's descent from an altitude
of 15 kilometers, or about 9 miles, according to China's state-run Xinhua
The probe is equipped with terrain recognition sensors to feed data into
the lander's computer, which can autonomously guide the spacecraft to
a flat landing zone clear of boulders, craters and steep inclines. That's
a first for an unmanned mission, and all robotic landers up to now had
to risk settling on to rock fields or other unwelcoming terrain, including
NASA's Curiosity rover when it touched down on Mars.
The four-legged lander will hit the lunar surface at a speed of less than
8.5 mph, and each leg features a device similar to a shock absorber on
a car to cushion the impact, according to a paper published in Science
China by members of the mission's development team.
Some time after landing, the probe will deploy a ramp for the Yutu rover
to drive on to the lunar surface to begin its exploration mission.
The rover has a mass of 140 kilograms, or about 308 pounds, and carries
radioisotope heater units to keep the spacecraft warm during the two week-long
lunar nights. The heaters are likely powered by small quantities of plutonium-238,
the isotope of plutonium preferred for space missions, according to respected
space researcher Dwayne Day, who discussed the rover's heaters in a story
published in the Space Review.
The Yutu rover carries advanced radars to study the structure of the lunar
crust at shallow depths along its path, and it is outfitted with spectrometers
to detect the elements making up the moon's soil and rocks, said Pei Zhaoyu,
a spokesperson for the Chang'e 3 mission, in a report by Xinhua.
Four navigation and panoramic cameras are mounted on the rover to return
high-resolution images from the moon.
The mission also has an optical telescope for astronomical observations
from the lunar surface, according to Pei.
China's lunar program is focused on robotic missions for now, with plans
for an unmanned mission to return rock samples to Earth by 2020. China's
military-run human space program is focused on development of a space
station in Earth orbit around the same timeframe, but scientists have
studied a manned lunar mission in the next decade.
Chang'e 3 will be China's first mission to test the technologies required
for future lunar exploration.
China has installed new deep space tracking antennas comparable to the
"world standard" and developed advanced autonomous guidance, navigation
and control systems for Chang'e 3, according to Wu Zhijian, a spokesperson
for China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for
National Defence, or SASTIND, which is managing the mission.
The European Space Agency is also contributing tracking and communications
support to the Chang'e 3 mission.
Received on Sun 01 Dec 2013 07:04:22 PM PST