China's New Lunar Probe to Scout the Moon's 'Bay of Rainbows'
When the unmanned moon probe launched by China today (Oct. 1) arrives at its destination next week, it will target a specific zone on the lunar surface to scout out future landing sites, the country's state-run media reports.
The robotic Chang'e 2 spacecraft will take a close look at the moon's Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridium, which has been proposed as a potential landing site for China's next moon-bound mission, the Xinhua News Agency reported today.
Chang'e 2 will send back high-resolution photos of the region to help mission planners pick the best landing targets for Chang'e 3 ? the probe that is expected to make China's first unmanned moon landing in 2013.
"The geological structure in this area is diverse, so a probe there would have greater scientific value," Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China's lunar exploration program, told Xinhua.
The Bay of Rainbows is approximately 147 miles (236 kilometers) wide. Its coordinate location is around 44 degrees north latitude and 31 degrees west longitude.
Four or five areas have been identified as possible landing grounds for the Chang'e 3 spacecraft, Wu said, but the Bay of Rainbows is the current frontrunner, Xinhua reported.
"Other places on the moon have already been landed on, so we want to choose one that has not been explored before," he said. "Previously, most lunar programs landed around the equator of the moon, an area easier for monitoring and control maneuvers, but Chang'e 3 will take on greater challenges."
Chang'e 2 launched at 6:59:57 a.m. EDT (1059:57 GMT) from the Xichang Space Center in southwestern China's Sichuan province, according to state media reports.
It should take about five days for the spacecraft to enter orbit around the moon.
After snapping the photos, Chang'e 2 will retreat to an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km) to conduct a study of the lunar surface and dirt.
The Chang'e 2 mission follows on the success of China's first lunar probe, Chang'e 1, which launched in October 2007 and ended its flight in March 2009. Chang'e 1 crashed into the moon after completing its mission.
China is also the third country after Russia and the United States to launch manned spaceflights. The country has launched three manned space missions using its Shenzhou spacecraft, most recently the Shenzhou 7 flight of 2008. That mission included China's first three-person spaceflight and China's first spacewalk.
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