A new mission to the Moon was launched yesterday by the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA), as Chang’e-1 blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, Sichuan, atop a Long March 3A rocket.
Chang’e-1 aims to make three-dimensional images of many lunar landforms and outline maps of major lunar geological structures. This mapping will include the first detailed images taken of some regions near the lunar poles. It will also analyse the abundance of up to 14 chemical elements and their distribution across the lunar surface. It will also measure the depth of the lunar soil and explore the space weather between the Earth and the Moon.
To perform its science mission, Chang’e-1 carries a variety of instruments: a CCD stereo camera, a laser altimeter, an imaging interferometer, a gamma-ray/X-ray spectrometer, a microwave radiometer, a high-energy particle detector, and a solar wind particle detector.
The spacecraft is large, weighing in at 2350 kg and it will operate from a low, circular lunar orbit, just 200 km above the surface of the Moon. From here, it will perform its science mission for a full year.
Named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e-1 represents the first phase in the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP). This programme is expected to last until around 2020 and the next phase will include a lander and associated rover. Looking farther into the future, plans are being drawn up for a sample return mission to bring lunar rocks to Earth for analysis.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is collaborating with the Chinese on the mission by providing spacecraft and ground operations support services to CNSA.