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Most Chang'e-3 science tools activated

Updated: 2013-12-18 01:39
By Zhao Lei ( China Daily)

Most Chang'e-3 science tools activated

Students learn about the ongoing Chang’e-3 mission at a primary school in Ganyu, Jiangsu province, on Tuesday. Designers are pleased with the mission's success so far, as experiments have gone more smoothly than expected. Si Wei / for China Daily

Six out of the eight pieces of scientific equipment deployed to the moon with the Chang'e-3 lunar mission have been activated by scientists and are functioning properly, according to scientists working on the mission.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, scientists said that the equipment aboard the Yutu lunar rover and the Chang'e-3 lander had so far been functioning as hoped, despite the unexpectedly rigorous conditions of the lunar environment.

"Except for the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and the visible and near-infrared imaging spectrometer, the instruments have all been activated and are undergoing tests and adjustments," said Su Yan, deputy designer of the Chang'e-3 ground applications system.

Zhang He, deputy designer of the probe, said though the temperature disparity is greater than scientists had anticipated, all the equipment on the moon is in "perfect" condition, and optical and ultraviolet-imaging experiments are under way.

Scientists with the ground applications system are expecting to receive a colossal quantity of original data from the rover and lander, which have independent channels to send signals, Su said. The earlier Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 craft only had one channel each, he said.

The mission's success so far has been a relief to Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program. He said the whole process, including the launch, the soft landing, the separation of the rover and lander and the ongoing experiments, have gone "much smoother" than he had expected.

"We made more than 200 plans to respond to any possible emergencies, and they cover each step of the mission," he said. "I am proud that we haven't needed to use them so far."

On Saturday, China became the third nation in the world, after the United States and the former Soviet Union, to soft-land a probe on the moon when the unmanned Chang'e-3 successfully set down.

The 140-kilogram, six-wheeled Yutu rover separated from the lander and touched the lunar surface early on Sunday, leaving deep tracks in the loose soil.

The mission is the second phase of China's current moon exploration program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to Earth. It follows the success of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010.

The next steps for Chinese scientists and engineers, Wu said, are to guarantee that the program's goals are achieved and to make full use of data obtained by the probe.

Given the success of Chang'e-3, the Chang'e-4, a backup probe, will be upgraded and serve as a prototype for the technologies being used in the Chang'e-5.

The job of Chang'e-5 will be to land on the moon and return to Earth with lunar soil samples.

Development of the Long March-5 rocket series and the construction of the new launch center in Wenchang, on the island province of Hainan, are going well, said Liu Jianzhong, deputy designer of the rocket system.

"Among other advantages, the latitude of Wenchang is lower than that of Xichang, enabling the rocket to use less fuel to send satellites or probes into orbit," Liu said.

"In addition, launching from the Wenchang facility means the rocket's wreckage will fall into the sea rather than onto inhabited areas, saving us many problems we would have to handle."

Responding to questions on whether China will send probes to Mars, which has become a key goal for many foreign space organizations, Wu said China has the potential to go there in the wake of the successes of the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions.

"We follow our own approach that respects stable progress and dislikes rash and reckless moves," he said. "We don't want to compete with any country in this regard. Moreover, the final decision is up to the government."