In the early hours of December 2nd, China deployed its Chang’e-3 spacecraft on route for the moon after launching it via a  Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang launch centre in Sichuan. The spacecraft is expected to reach lunar orbit in about 4 days, if everything goes as planned. On 14 December, the probe is expected to touch base with the moon at Sinus Iridium and release a rover. If successful, this would be the first soft landing since the Soviet Luna-24 mission in 1976.

China’s lunar probe as seen against the limb of the Earth. (c) CCTV

China’s lunar probe as seen against the limb of the Earth. (c) CCTV

This is the third spacecraft deployed by China to the moon, after previously  Chang’e 2 and  Chang’e 1 moon orbiters successfully entered lunar orbit. This time, instead of crashing the probes, Chinese scientists hope to direct  Chang’e 3 for a soft landing and release a six-wheeled rover named Yutu, the ‘jade rabbit’ companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e. On the moon’s surface, Yutu will perform various experiments using its built-in cameras, an ultraviolet telescope and an X-ray spectrometer mounted on a robotic arm.

China has a slew of other ambitious space projects lined up as well, like  its own space station by 2020  and plans of sending a robot to the moon within two years and also to bring a lunar sample home by 2017.

Enjoyed this article? Join 40,000+ subscribers to the ZME Science newsletter. Subscribe now!

Estimate my solar savings!