China Launches Spacecraft to Moon

China Launches Spacecraft to Moon

China launched an experimental spacecraft early Friday that is scheduled to orbit the moon before returning to Earth, a first for the country's ambitious space program and considered a precursor to the Chang'e-5, a future probe that will conduct the country's first moon mission with a return to Earth, CNN reported.
The unmanned spacecraft was launched by a Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan, western China, state media said. It is China's first lunar module capable of returning to Earth and the mission's main technical challenge will be making sure the spacecraft slows down enough to re-enter Earth's atmosphere safely.
The test orbiter is a precursor to the last phase of a three-step moon probe project, a lunar sample return mission. China carried out Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010, respectively, capping the orbital phase.
Too fast and it could overheat or become difficult to track and control, Hu Hao, chief designer of the lunar exploration program, told The China Daily.
It is expected to take around a week to fly around the moon. The spacecraft will end its mission by landing on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. The mission tests technology that will be used in a more ambitious launch, scheduled to take place in 2017, when an unmanned lunar probe will go to the moon, collect soil samples and return home.
Chinese astronauts have made five manned space flights on a series of Shenzhou "Divine Vessel" modules, with the latest mission in 2013 completing a successful manual docking with the Tiangong-1 space station. Last December, China put a lunar rover, known as the Jade Rabbit, on the moon but it was plagued by mechanical troubles, the China Daily said.


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