China’s surging space program will embark on its most ambitious robotic mission yet on Monday as it launches the Chang’e-3 mission to the moon. The spacecraft will land and deploy a six-wheel rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit) that will explore the surface for three months.
The launch aboard a Long March-3B rocket from Xichang is scheduled for Monday at 1:30 a.m. local time (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. EST). The moon landing — the first by any country since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976 — is scheduled for mid-December. Only the United States and Soviet Union have soft landed spacecraft on the lunar surface.
Chang’e is named for the Chinese goddess of the moon. Yutu is the jade rabbit kept by the goddess.
Yutu — which measures 1.5 m (4.9 feet) high and weighs 120 kg (260 lb) — is designed to explore a 3-square kilometer area of Sinus Iridum during a three-month mission.The vehicle is equipped with a camera, X-ray spectrometer, infrared spectrometer, and a radar unit that will measure the structure of the lunar soil down to a depth of 30 m (98 feet) and the lunar crust down to several hundred meters.
Yutu will also have the capability to dig into the lunar soil and perform basic analyses of samples. Chinese scientists have equipped the rover with sensors for avoiding objects and the ability to to navigate inclines.
The landing vehicle is equipped with seven instruments and cameras that will study the moon and its environment separately. The payload includes an astronomical telescope with an extreme ultraviolet camera that will be able to observe celestial bodies and study how solar activity affects the ion layer near Earth
Chinese engineers have incorporated technological advances into the Chang’e-3 mission that give it some advantages over the missions flown by the United States and Soviet Union back in the 1960’s and 1970’s:
Engineers have adopted technologies of high-precision guidance and control, multiple narrow window launches, transmission system for remote sensing, and reduction of the rocket’s deadweight, said Cen Zheng, rocket system commander-in-chief of the mission….
After entering lunar orbit, Chang’e-3 will go through six stages of deceleration to descend from 15 km above to the lunar surface.
The soft-landing processes of the U.S. and former Soviet Union’s unmanned spacecraft had no capacity to hover or avoid obstacles. Chang’e-3, on the other hand, can accurately survey landforms at the landing site and identify the safest spots on which to land.
In order to land quickly, the probe is equipped with high-precision, fast-response sensors to analyze its motion and surroundings. The variable thrust engine (completely designed and made by Chinese scientists) can generate up to 7,500 newtons of thrust.
Read more about the mission here.