Sunday, December 01, 2013

China Launches Lunar Rover to the Moon

The Chang’e-3 atop a Chinese rocket on Sunday. Photo c/o Reuters.
On the off chance that NASA and its traditional junior partners (including the Canadian Space Agency) might need yet another reminder of how the times are changing, along comes China.

The Chang’e 3 lunar exploration mission, operated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), successfully blasted off from southwest China today, and is expected to soft land a mobile rover on the Moon within the next two weeks.

The mission will be the first such landing by any country since 1976, when the Soviet Union Luna-24 probe soft-landed in the Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis) and then returned to Earth with 170.1 grams of lunar samples. The last US mission to the Moon was the Apollo 17 manned landing in December 1972.

As outlined in the December 1st, 2013  New York Times article "China Launches Moon Rover Missions," the Chinese state-run news media has:
... responded to the launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center with an outpouring of jubilation. That is likely to reach a crescendo in about two weeks, when the landing vehicle is scheduled to descend on the moon and release the Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, robotic rover to start sending back data and pictures from Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, a basaltic plain formed from lava that filled a crater.
The article also pointed out that Chinese space activities generate skills which enhance the country’s science, satellites and military programs. A five year program for Chinese space exploration, announced in December 2011 also included plans for launching a space lab and collecting samples from the moon, along with a more powerful manned spaceship and space freighters. China has also vowed to put an astronaut on the Moon before the end of this decade.

US based companies are also contributing to Chinese space successes. As outlined in the December 1st, 2013 post, "Moon Express and Chinese Collaborate on Moon Mission Science,"  Google Lunar X-Prize competitor 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. According to Moon Express CEO (and Canadian expatriate) Bob Richards “We are beginning a new era of commercial lunar exploration."

There's no doubt Richards is right, but only time will tell if the Chinese reach ever ends up exceeding the Chinese grasp. Until then, wise Canadian space entrepreneurs will note the new markets opening up for space related products and services, and react accordingly.

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