In celebration of the tenth anniversary of their national space program, China is preparing to launch one of the most complex space missions they have ever made.
China is sending another mission to the moon.
Unfortunately though, our nearest neighbor won’t be visited by Chinese astronauts (not yet at least), but rather by a lander and a rover. The robot visitors are part of the Chang’e 3 mission, which is part of the second phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. Final preparations for the mission are now already underway, and the launch itself is scheduled next month on December 1.
The primary objective of the Chang’e 3 mission is to survey the lunar surface using modern observation instruments, and to collect moon samples to send back to Earth. In addition, it is also tasked with the equally important objective of observing the universe from the moon, with the use of its near-ultraviolet astronomical telescope.
The first phase of the their lunar program included the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, lunar orbiters which provided precious data of the lunar surface (to help search for favorable landing spots for example), as well as providing a technical platform to build upon that would help the space agency accumulate knowledge and experience in the field of lunar spaceflight.
After the Chang’e 3 mission, they would then proceed to further push the lunar exploration program with more objective-specific missions, with the possibility of even sending astronauts to the lunar surface by the year 2025-2030.
It is quite notable to point out that this mission is actually the first time that a spacecraft would once again visit the surface of the moon, after a long period of about four decades. The last manned mission to the moon was the American Apollo 17 mission in 1972, while the last robotic probe to land on the moon was the Soviet Luna 24 lander in 1976.