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Spotlight on China's Moon Rover
by Morris Jones for
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 26, 2013

This is now the second major space mission to fly under the reign of Xi Jinping, and it seems that China's new leadership has set its space media policies firmly in place. Any hopes that China's change in leadership would lead to a more open policy for covering spaceflight seem to have been destroyed.

The upcoming launch of China's Chang'e-3 Moon lander and rover follows a busy year for the Chinese space program. Awareness of China's growing strength in spaceflight is rising throughout the world. So much has been achieved in human and robotic spaceflight. Work towards even greater feats is advancing rapidly.

China is moving forward in space, but as this analyst has long remarked, its policy of revealing its activities to the world has been lacking. China has always been somewhat cagey on its plans for space, even when there were no ostensibly secret or sensitive issues surrounding a mission.

Things seemed to be a little more open in 2012, when the Shenzhou 9 mission carried three astronauts to the Tiangong 1 space laboratory. Live video coverage of key events, including a manual docking, was provided. However, roughly a year later, space observers noted a strange step backwards in media coverage of the Shenzhou 10 mission, which also carried three astronauts to the Tiangong 1 space laboratory.

There was a relatively short gap between the launches, and the missions were similar. But media coverage was markedly different for Shenzhou 10. What had happened?

This analyst speculated that the rise of Xi Jinping to China's leadership could have changed the game. It seemed that China's media were being cautious while the new leader set his policies in place. Given time, we would hopefully return to normal programming.

This analyst has since watched media disclosure of China's first attempt to land a spacecraft on the Moon. The weeks leading up to the launch were fairly lean, but that was to be expected. China reported on the basics of the mission, as well as the arrival of the spacecraft and its rocket to the launch site.

A model of the rover was also exhibited at the International Astronautical Congress in Beijing. This pace of reportage seemed fairly normal, and matched the type of coverage given to China's earlier Moon orbiter missions. So far, so good.

With less than a week to go before the expected launch of Chang'e-3 on December 1 UTC time, the window for stronger media coverage was certainly open. But China still remained relatively quiet.

A media briefing on the mission held roughly six days before launch told us that the name of the rover was "Yutu", or "Jade Rabbit", but provided essentially no critical information that had not been previously published.

Even the launch date and time were announced with no more precision than "early December". Chinese television (CCTV) did not even carry this briefing live, but did make some minor references to the briefing on their Web site.

An overview of the media policy for Chang'e-3 suggests that China will still tell us of its plans and report on key events as they occur. There is no overwhelming blanket of secrecy, but we are still not seeing much progress in terms of coverage. In past times, China has sometimes tried to give more publicity to some of its missions, only to pull back for later ones. The oscillations now seem to be damping down.

This is now the second major space mission to fly under the reign of Xi Jinping, and it seems that China's new leadership has set its space media policies firmly in place. Any hopes that China's change in leadership would lead to a more open policy for covering spaceflight seem to have been destroyed.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has written for since 1999. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.


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