Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
  Moon News  

Subscribe to our free daily newsletters

China Scouts Moon Landing Sites

China's first lunar orbiter, Chang'e 1, made a complete map of the Moon.
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Oct 04, 2010
China's second lunar mission, Chang'e 2, will perform several tasks during its flight. Some of these are purely scientific, aimed at helping us to understand the Moon and the space around it.

One task is highly practical. China is using the spacecraft to scout landing sites for future Chinese Moon missions.

China's first lunar orbiter, Chang'e 1, made a complete map of the Moon. While this tells us a lot, it is not very useful as a guide to safely landing there. The resolution of the spacecraft's camera was around 120 metres, which means that hazardous objects such as boulders won't show up.

Chang'e 2 carries a more powerful camera which, according to one recent Chinese statement, boasts a resolution of ten metres. Other statements have spoken of resolutions of seven metres, or 1.5 metres, or even one metre. That's a lot of variation. It's partially a result of the fact that the resolution of the camera will vary with distance.

The closer the Chang'e 2 spacecraft gets to the Moon, the more it will see. Chinese media recently reported that the orbiter will descend to roughly 15 kilometres to get the highest resolution images.

China will need the highest possible high quality images if it is to accurately map landing sites for spacecraft, and determine that they are safe. If the resolution of the images is no better than two metres, then problems could easily go unnoticed. Large boulders lying in otherwise clear terrain represent the greatest threat to a safe landing.

We have seen how dangerous it can be when the mapping is insufficient. Prior to the Apollo Moon missions of the 1960s and 1970s, NASA undertook its own campaign to map the Moon with robot orbiters.

A sequence of "Lunar Orbiter" spacecraft produced the first ever global map of the Moon. These spacecraft recorded their images on ordinary film, then developed the film on-board the spacecraft and scanned the images for radio transmission to Earth. No video cameras or CCD chips were used! Amazingly, the spacecraft returned images with a resolution as high as two metres.

The Lunar Orbiter maps were good, but not good enough. In 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were descending to the surface of the Moon on board the Lunar Module "Eagle" during the Apollo 11 mission.

As they approached their designated landing site in the Sea of Tranquility, the astronauts were shocked to find their touchdown area strewn with boulders! Armstrong quickly took control and steered the Lunar Module to a nearby, safer area. A near-tragedy had been averted.

NASA knows it must have better data for its next landings. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), currently orbiting the Moon, has a maximum resolution of around 30 centimetres, good enough to see old landers resting on the lunar surface. This spacecraft, launched in 2009, was developed to support the Constellation program, a project aimed

at returning US astronauts to the Moon around 2020. Unfortunately, a US manned lunar landing within another decade now seems impossible. But data from LRO will still probably guide a new series of robot US landers to the Moon in the near future.

China expects to stage its first robot landing on the Moon in 2012 or 2013. The Chang'e 3 spacecraft will carry a small rover to the surface, and will operate a small astronomical telescope, in addition to other instruments. It is unclear if the lander has any ability to navigate around hazardous objects during its descent, as Armstrong did.

As an educated guess, it probably cannot do this. Hazard avoidance technology like this is highly advanced, and is still somewhat new to more advanced space agencies like NASA.

The best option for steering China's robot landers to safety is to ensure that no unexpected surprises await them. This will place heavy demands on the performance of the Chang'e 2 mission.

China has recently revealed that Chang'e 3 is targeted for the Bay of Rainbows, a lava plain on the Moon. It's easy to see why. This area is remarkably flat and featureless in low-resolution images. It's also large, allowing plenty of room for rough navigation in the descent. A close look should confirm its suitability.

China has probably shortlisted a number of other landing sites that could be used for other landers, or possibly for Chang'e 3 if the Bay of Rainbows is judged unsuitable.

China's lunar exploration plans are highly ambitious. Apart from deploying a rover on the Moon, China also plans a sample-return mission. This will retrieve rock samples and place them inside a small rocket carried by the lander.

The rocket will then take off from the Moon. As it approaches Earth, a small capsule with the samples inside will separate from the rocket and land in China.

The sample-return mission is expected to fly around 2017. Most reports suggest that there will be one rover-lander and one sample-return mission this decade, but this is not totally clear. One table of missions released in the Chinese media listed two rover-landers and two sample-return missions. As usual, we won't know for sure for a while.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst and writer. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email.

Share This Article With Planet Earth DiggDigg RedditReddit
YahooMyWebYahooMyWeb GoogleGoogle FacebookFacebook

Related Links
- Mars News and Information at
Lunar Dreams and more

Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News

NASA official: Moon still matters
Wash., D.C. (UPI) Oct 1, 2010
NASA new direction of sending astronauts to the asteroids or Mars doesn't mean a return to the moon is out of the question, the U.S. agency's deputy head says. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver said the moon has a role to play in the new space exploration plan set by President Barack Obama and approved by Congress this week. "Lunar science and lunar exploration is alive and w ... read more

Opportunity's Surroundings After Sol 2363 Drive

Atmosphere Checked, One Mars Year Before A Landing

Martian Moon Phobos May Have Formed by Catastrophic Blast

First Results From Herschel Mars Observations

Hello, Saturn Summer Solstice: Cassini's New Chapter

Cassini Dives Inside Saturn's Radio Aurora

New Views Of Saturn's Aurora

Cassini Gazes At Veiled Titan

The Longest Space Mission

Uranus may have been cosmic 'pinball'

Flying To The Edge

Picture-Perfect Pluto Practice

Hot Atmosphere Of Venus May Cool Planet's Interior

Venus Lightning Sparks Interest Among Scientists

Japanese Spacecraft Approaches Venus

Recreating Venus In The Lab

Global Consortium Of Space Agencies To Meet At USGS

Indian Satellite To Check Greenhouse Gas And Aerosol Emissions

Google brings 'Street View' to Antarctica

NASA Satellites See Nicole Become A Remnant

U.K. predicts 'spaceplane' in 10 years

Successful Static Testing Of L 110 Liquid Core Stage Of GSLV 3

Danish rocketeers abort launch attempt

Technical glitch grounds homemade Danish rocket

Slow-Motion Giants Carry Shuttles To Pad

Fuel tank for final shuttle in Florida

Shuttle ready for move to launch pad

NASA To Ship Fuel Tank For Last Planned Shuttle Flight

International Partners Update Launch Manifest

Expedition 25 Crew At Work, Waiting For Three New Members

Soyuz crew admit to disappointment at delayed landing

Russian spacecraft lands safely after delays

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2010 - SpaceDaily. AFP and UPI Wire Stories are copyright Agence France-Presse and United Press International. ESA Portal Reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. Advertising does not imply endorsement,agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by SpaceDaily on any Web page published or hosted by SpaceDaily. Privacy Statement