ESA Helps Chinese Moon Mission
November 29, 2013

ESA Collaborates With China On Moon Mission

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While China and Western nations may be entangled in a daily political struggle, scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA) are extending their resources to assist their Chinese counterparts on the upcoming Chang’e 3 Moon mission.

The Chinese mission is slated to launch from Earth in early December and land a scientific rover on the Moon. The entire ESA side of the operation will be run from the Estrack Control Centre in ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

“We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon,” said Thomas Reiter, a director of human spaceflight and operations for the ESA.“Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone.”

Immediately after launch on Dec. 1, ESA’s station in Kourou, French Guiana, will begin to receive signals from the rocket and send commands on behalf of the Chinese control center. The Chang’e craft will then be tracked by the ESA through its entry into lunar orbit around Dec. 6 and until just before its descent to the Moon’s surface at around mid-day on Dec. 14. The landing and rover operations on the Moon will be controlled through two tracking stations based in China.

During the landing procedure, ESA facilities will record the craft’s radio signals, which will assist the Chinese in reconstructing the flight for future reference.

“After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35-meter diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide ‘delta-DOR’ location measurement,” said Erik Soerensen, a mission tracker at the ESA. “Using this delta-DOR technique, you can compute locations with extreme accuracy, which will help our Chinese colleagues to determine the precise location of the lander.”

A team of engineers from China is scheduled to be at the ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt.

“While we’re very international at ESOC, hardly anyone speaks Mandarin, so having Chinese colleagues on site will really help in case of any unforeseen problems,” said Soerensen. “Both sides are using international technical standards to enable our stations and ESOC to communicate with their mission and ground systems."

If the mission is successful, Chang’e 3 will deposit China’s first rover and lander to the surface of another celestial body.

“Chang’e Three’s mission requires mastering many key technologies. The technical difficulties and the risks involved in carrying out the mission will be high,” space agency spokesman Wu Zhijian said recently on state television.

“In taking on the mission to land on the moon, Chang’e Three will help China fulfill it’s lunar exploration dream, it’s space dream and the Chinese dream,” Wu added.

While ESA officials have embraced the Chinese lunar mission, some NASA officials have been grumbling that the landing operation may disrupt the space agency’s ongoing Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission, which is gathering data on the wispy lunar atmosphere.