China has targeted to launch by yearend 2013 its first unmanned Chang'e-3 moon landing mission. The country's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence said the carrier rocket for the lunar probe has successfully passed pre-launch testing.
Named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, Chang'e-3's main mission is to take soil samples from the moon as well as investigate the lunar crust up to a hundred metres deep. Chang'e-3 weighs 1,200 kg and is fitted with seven instruments and cameras, including an extreme ultraviolet one to measure the effects of solar activity on the earth's ion layer. It is powered by solar panels and a plutonium radioisotope thermoelectric generator.
Artist's impression of Chang'e 2 in space
"The Chang'e-3 mission makes best use of a plethora of innovative technology. It is an extremely difficult mission that carries great risk," Ma Xingrui, head of China's space exploration body and chief commander of the lunar program, told China Daily.
Authorities have chosen a plain of basaltic lava forming a north-western extension to the Mare Imbrium on the surface of the moon as Chang'e-3's landing site. The vessel will use radio-controlled technology to capture images and send it back to Earth.
A map showing the location of Mare Imbrium
China sent three astronauts on a 15-day mission aboard on the Shenzhou-10 in June to orbit and dock their vessel successfully with a space laboratory.
Chang'e-3 will be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China. Along with another lander, it will on the moon for the next few months.
The sculpture Fallen Astronaut, left on Mare Imbrium by the astronauts of Apollo 15.
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