Japan, China To Extend Successful Lunar Missions

Japanese and Chinesemission managers said their separate lunar orbiters, now halfway throughyearlong missions, have performed flawlessly and are likely to be extended.

In presentations hereMarch 26 to a meeting of the International Astronautical Federation, managersof Japan'sKaguya and China'sChang'e-1 programs said both programs are meeting their science objectivesand their goals as pathfinders for future lunar landers in the middle of thenext decade.

Susumu Sasaki, Kaguyaproject scientist at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, said boththe main satellite and two smaller spacecraft jettisoned in lunar orbit fordata-relay and gravity-field measurements have performed without a hitch.

Launched in Septemberaboard a Japanese H-2A rocket on a yearlong mission, Kaguya and the twocompanion satellites are almost certain to have their mission extended by sixmonths, Sasaki said. "The debate now is over lunar surface, or to leave itat around 100 kilometers," he said.

The data-relay satellite,Okina, is in an orbit with an apogee of 2,400 kilometers and a perigee of 100kilometers. The Ouna gravity-field measurement satellite is in a 100-kilometercircular orbit inclined at 90 degrees, taking it over the lunar poles, as isthe case with Kaguya. Kaguya weighed about 3,000 kilograms at launch. The twocompanion satellites weigh 50 kilograms each.

The Kaguya satellitecarries a radar sounder capable of taking images up to 5,000 meters below thelunar surface with a resolution of 100 meters. The Okina data-relay satelliteis used to beam Kaguya results to ground stations when Kaguya's orbit takes itover the far side of the Moon relative to Earth.

The mission also includestwo high-definition cameras that have returned crystal-clear pictures of the lunar surface.

Sasaki said that allKaguya science data will be released publicly in late 2009 — one year after thenominal 12-month mission concludes — even if Kaguya operations continue into2009.

Sasaki said the successof Kaguya has given fresh impetus to the idea of launching one or two lunarlanders around 2015, but he stressed that no budget commitments have been madefor this.

The Chinese NationalSpace Administration is in a similar situation following the early success ofits Chang'e-1 satellite, launched in October aboard a Chinese Long March 3Arocket.

The 2,350-kilogramChang'e-1, orbiting between 200 kilometers and 225 kilometers above the Moon'ssurface, is intended to be the first step in a three-stage Chineselunar-exploration program that would include two robotic landers in the middleof the next decade and a sample-return mission around 2020.

Hao Xifan, deputydirector of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program Center, said Chang'e-1'splatform and instruments have functioned without a glitch so far. The satelliteis designed to take 3-D imagery of the lunar surface and analyze the lunarsurface's composition. Chang'e-1, based on China's proven DFH-3 communicationssatellite platform, also is designed to test deep-space operations.

The European Space Agency(ESA), which has cooperated with China on science missions in the past, gaveChina detailed positioning and frequency-transmission information on ESA's Smart-1lunar orbiter to permit Chinese lunar-program managers to test their ownsatellite-tracking stations in preparation for the Chang'e-1 mission.

ESA's Estracksatellite-tracking network, with stations in Australia and South America aswell as in Europe, has been used for Chang'e-1. ESA officials have openednegotiations with China on a long-term cooperative effort in lunar exploration.

Chinesegovernment officials in recent weeks have said that the success of Chang'e-1puts the nation on track for a lunar lander mission in 2013. Hao said 2013-2015remains feasible, but that the funding for such a mission has not beenconfirmed.


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Charles Q. Choi
Contributing Writer

Charles Q. Choi is a contributing writer for Space.com and Live Science. He covers all things human origins and astronomy as well as physics, animals and general science topics. Charles has a Master of Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, School of Journalism and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida. Charles has visited every continent on Earth, drinking rancid yak butter tea in Lhasa, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos and even climbing an iceberg in Antarctica. Visit him at http://www.sciwriter.us