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Apr 11, 2020

China’s space dream on track

Posted by in categories: engineering, satellites

Last January 3, China dazzled the world with the landing of the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, accomplishing a first for humanity. On December 14, its Yutu-2 rover set the record for longest active rover on the Moon, breaking the record of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s Lunokhod-1 that was active for ten and a half months (November 15, 1970 to October 4, 1971). Yutu-2 has travelled about 345 meters on the lunar surface and is entering its 13th lunar day.

Soon after China had successfully landed on the far side, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced several follow-on missions, to include the 2020 lunar sample return mission, Chang’e-5, followed by Chang’e-6, which will bring back samples from the lunar south pole, believed to be rich in resources like water ice. Chang’e-7 will land on the Lunar South Pole to carry out a comprehensive survey, followed by Chang’e-8, which will lay the groundwork for a research base on the Moon by 2036.

Some of these follow-on lunar missions, however, depended on China’s successful launch of its heavy lift rocket, the Long March 5. Two earlier test launches (2016, 2017) of the rocket were either partial or total failures, resulting in a two-year hiatus to fix the engineering problems. On December 27, the Long March 5 successfully launched into orbit in a stunning nighttime liftoff, sending the eight-tonne Shijian-20 technological experiment satellite into its planned orbit.

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