China has launched a spacecraft to the moon designed to pave the way for a future lunar sample return mission.
The spacecraft, launched today aboard a Long March 3C rocket, will circle the moon and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a test of its navigation system and heat shield. It is a precursor for the Chang’e-5 sample return mission set to launch around 2017.
The Long March 3C upper stage, which will also loop around the moon, is carrying LuxSpace’s M4 payload. The payload includes an amateur radio beacon and a radiation sensor.
“This is the first ever privately funded mission to the moon and it happens 45 years after the first landing on the moon,” saide Jochen Harms, managing director of LuxSpace.
M4 stands for Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. The mission honors Manfred Fuchs, the founder of LuxSpace’s parent company OHB, who died 0n April 26, 2014.
Toward the end of the year, China will launch a spacecraft to the moon that will return for a soft landing on Earth. Officially, this is a test of a ship that will return soil samples from the moon, but Morris Jones suspects there’s more to it than that:
This analyst also suspects that China is also testing technology for a future Chinese astronaut launch to the Moon. The re-entry capsule is a scale replica of the capsule used on China’s Shenzhou astronaut spacecraft.
China has not released a lot of information on the mission, and has not even revealed any diagrams or photographs of the entire spacecraft. We have seen the re-entry module in photographs, but little else….
We believed that China would fly this mission in a free-return trajectory to the Moon. This meant that the spacecraft would fly around the far side of the Moon and use the Moon’s gravity to sling it back to Earth.
This mission profile was used by the Soviet Union’s “Zond” lunar probes, which were themselves tests for a cosmonaut launch to the Moon that never happened. A free-return trajectory was also used to bring the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission back to Earth.
Recently, a story published by China’s state news agency Xinhua gave a different perspective. It claims that the spacecraft will actually enter orbit around the Moon.
Last week, China Space News published a short article on efforts by engineers to recover rocket boosters for later reuse. Based on a Google Translate version of the original article, it sounds like they are pursuing an approach quite different from SpaceX’s propulsive landing system.
The article quotes an engineer has saying the recovery approach involves attaching paraglider-type “wings” to the booster that would allow it to glide to a soft landing. This technology has reached the “experimental verification stage.”
Future steps include powered flight tests. The article indicates that the development process is estimated to take about four years.
With ties with the United States frayed over Ukraine, Russia has rushed to deepen its ties with China. Everyone’s favorite Josef Stalin-loving deputy prime minister was in China last week to lay the foundation for deeper cooperation in space.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin has followed last week’s rhetorical bombshell — that Russia was not interested in extending operation of the International Space Station, or ISS, beyond 2020 — by trumpeting a future of increased cooperation with the emerging Chinese National Space Agency.
Meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang, in Beijing on Monday, Rogozin announced on Twitter that he had signed “a protocol on establishing a control group for the implementation of eight strategic projects.” In a later Facebook post, he said “cooperation in space and in the market for space navigation” were among the projects.
The partnership appears to be aimed largely at post-ISS cooperation. China has plans to place a multi-module space station in orbit by 2020 to which Russia could contribute.
It was a great story while it lasted, one full of spies, technological espionage, Cold War-style fears, and super power rivalry. And then the story turned into something far stranger.
The news broke two weeks ago that Virgin Galactic is turning away would-be space tourists from China. The reason: strict U.S. export restrictions known as ITAR that are designed to prevent the transfer of sensitive technologies to hostile foreign nations. Visions of Chinese spies signing up for flights and stealing the secrets to this new technology filled numerous news stories in the week that followed.
There was only one problem: the story appears to be only half true.
China had a highly successful year in space in 2013, sending a second crew to live aboard the Tiangong-1 space station in June and becoming only the third nation to successfully soft land a spacecraft on the moon in December. As the year ended, the Yutu rover had completed its first exploration of the lunar surface and had entered a hibernation period for a long lunar night.
With increasingly sophisticated spacecraft, a reliable stable of Long March launch vehicles, and ambitious plans for the future, China has made itself a major player in the international space arena as space agencies in the United States and Europe face budgetary pressures and Russia struggles to revive a once formidable space program.
Chinese travellers will be able to undertake space trips by 2014 end following an agreement signed here Friday between a Chinese travel agency and Netherlands-based space tourism firm.
Travellers will have to pay a minimum of 580,000 yuan (about $95,000) to board the Lynx Mark I spacecraft produced by the US private aerospace company XCOR, Xinhua reported citing Zhang Yong, chief executive officer of Dexo Travel, a Chinese travel agency focusing on high-end travellers.
SXC announced its expansion into Asia in July with an event in Hong Kong. A division of the company named SXC Asia led by CEO Alex Tang is responsible for sales and marketing initiatives in the region.
UPDATE: The Yutu rover has rolled out onto the moon.
China successfully soft landed a vehicle on the surface of the moon today, becoming only the third nation to accomplish this feat and the first to do so in 37 years.
The Chang’e-3 lander touched down in Sinus Iridum with its Yutu lunar rover. Yutu will be deployed for a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.
UPDATE, 12/10/13: Space News is reporting the failure was caused by an unspecified malfunction in the rocket’s third stage. The vehicle’s builder, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is investigating.
The failure of a Long March 4B rocket has destroyed the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-3).
“There was a malfunction of a launch vehicle during flight and hence satellite positioned in orbit has not been provided. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 has returned to the planet,” according to a statement posted on the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) website.
Space News has an extensive Q&A with Yuriy Boyko, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister for Ecology, Natural Resources, Energy and Space. The interview primarily focuses on the nation’s space program, its joint Cyclone 4 launch vehicle program with Brazil, and its efforts to increase cooperation with the United States and China.
Some of the highlights:
Ukraine’s main launch vehicles include Zenit (Sea Launch, Land Launch), Dnepr (joint program with Russia), Cyclone 4 (joint program with Brazil), and the first stage structure for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares.
Ukraine spends between $400 million and $500 million on its space program mostly for science work, but receives about $600 million annually in revenues from commercial work;
Brazil and Ukraine have committed $1.5 million (split equally) over a three-year period to Cyclone 4, which should have its first test flight from the Alcantara Launch Center by early 2015;
The partners hope that South American countries with satellite programs will flock to the Alcantara facility on Brazil’s Atlantic coast;
The upper stage developed for the Cyclone 4 could be a good fit for the Antares rocket;
Boyko recently completed consultations with NASA and U.S. commercial space companies concerning cooperative programs, with the two governments establishing a framework for further cooperation;
There are no specific cooperative programs to announce yet between Ukraine and American government and private entities;
Ukraine would like to become involved in the International Space Station program;
Boyko says that Ukrainian specialists have extensive experience with radiation shielding technology, which could help the United States with human Mars and deep space missions;
Ukraine is consulting with China, which is very interested in developing large propulsion systems.
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Silicon Valley, CA, December 1, 2013 (Moon Express PR) – Moon Express, a U.S. commercial lunar enterprise, is enabling scientific collaboration between the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and China’s Chang’e-3 Moon mission successfully launched today from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, southwest China.
The U.S. private sector collaboration on Chang’e-3 is made possible through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between ILOA and the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) on September 4, 2012 in Hawaii, and a MOU signed between ILOA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on August 13, 2013, in Beijing.
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.
All the promise, perils and contradictions of America’s human spaceflight effort were on display earlier this week in Washington, D.C.
Things were looking good for a day or so, but then the proverbial other shoe dropped to remind everyone of the deep trouble that lies ahead as NASA attempts to restore its human spaceflight capability and send astronauts beyond low Earth orbit.
As NASA struggles to execute a series of ambitious programs on increasingly tight budgets, the main beneficiary appears to be the bumbling, crisis prone Russian space agency Roscosmos, which has reaped a financial windfall as a result of America’s equally bumbling human spaceflight policy. And matters could get worse before they get better (for NASA, at least).