China’s first deep space probe arrived in lunar orbit Monday to begin a one-year mission surveying the moon, reports SpaceFlightNow
The Chang’e 1 spacecraft entered lunar orbit at about 0337 GMT Monday (10:37 p.m. EST Sunday), capping off a 12-day voyage from planet Earth that began with an Oct. 24 blastoff from the Xichang space base in southwestern China.
The 5,000-pound probe fired a maneuvering engine for about 22 minutes for the critical insertion burn, slowing the spacecraft’s velocity by about 800 miles per hour. The change in speed was enough to allow the moon’s weak gravity to capture the spacecraft in a preliminary orbit stretching from an altitude of 124 miles to a high point of about 5,344 miles, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
The first images of the moon from Chang’e 1 are expected by the end of this month. Controllers plan to transition the mission into an operational phase by December.
The $187 million mission is a key stepping stone in China’s quest to develop a lunar exploration program that includes a lunar rover and a probe to return soil samples from the moon’s surface. Those missions could be realized by 2012 and 2017, respectively, according to Chinese space officials.
Meanwhile, Discovery astronauts undocked from the International Space Station today, after they successfully stitched a torn solar panel, in a risky and unprecedented space walk to ensure an adequate power at ISS.
The crew installed a new living module manufactured by Thales Alenia Space incorporating permanent lodging for four astronauts, water purifying and oxygen generation.
The spacecraft that NASA hopes will return humans to the moon is scheduled to begin flight testing in fall 2008.
The Orion spacecraft is expected to replace NASA’s aged space shuttle fleet with missions in Earth’s orbit, including visits to the International Space Station.
Each Orion spacecraft will carry a crew of four to six astronauts, and will be launched by the new Ares I launch vehicle. They are scheduled to begin in 2015, with humans returning to the moon sometime before 2020.