China's First Moon Probe Crashes to Lunar Surface
An artist's interpretation of the China's Chang'e 1 lunar orbiter, which launched in October 2007 and ended its mission by crashing into the moon on March 1, 2009.
Credit: CNSA.

China?s first moon probe Chang?e 1 intentionally crashed into the lunar surface on Sunday after more than year of science observations, according to state media reports.

The Chang?e 1 orbiter fired its engines to leave lunar orbit Sunday afternoon and ultimately slammed into the moon?s southern region at 4:13 p.m. Beijing Time (0813 GMT), China?s state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Launched in October 2007, the 5,180-pound (2,350-kg) satellite Chang?e 1 spacecraft orbited the moon for 16 months. During its flight, the spacecraft used eight onboard instruments to map the lunar surface, study its composition and depth, as well as analyze the space environment around the moon.

Chinese space officials said they planned to launch a follow-up mission — Chang?e 2 — by 2011. Chang?e 1?s intentional crash was slated to be a dry run for a potential moon landing, they said Sunday.

Chang?e 1 was a named after a Chinese goddess who, in a popular fairy tale, lives on the moon. The mission cost a reported 1.4 billion yuan (about $180 million), according to past Chinese media reports.

Officials with the China National Space Agency have said Chang?e 1 was the first wave in a three-phase plan to explore the moon with orbiters, landers and rovers.

"The second phase of the space program aims at soft landing, and the preparation is currently in progress", said Wu Weiren, chief designer of the country's lunar probe program, according to Xinhua.

That soft landing is slated to be performed by yet another probe, Chang?e 3, by no later than 2013, Chang?e 1 chief designer Ye Peijian told Xinhua. A fourth Chang?e probe would also fly during the second phase of lunar exploration, he added.

China?s third phase of lunar exploration includes landing ?recoverable moon rovers? on the lunar surface between 2017 and 2020, Ye told Xinhua. Those probes, however, may not carry the Chang?e moniker.

"The name hasn't been decided yet," Ye told Xinhua.

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