October 10, 2010

China Probe Now In Moon Orbit

China's second lunar probe entered the moon's orbit Saturday, three years after its first successful lunar probe launch, which remained in orbit for 16 months.

The news, reported by Chinese state media, comes just eight days after the Long March 3C rocket carrying the Chang'e-2 probe blasted off from its launch center.

The probe will begin "scientific exploration activities soon," said the Xinhua news agency, quoting the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

The probe will first circle the lunar body at about 62 miles out. It will eventually drop into orbit roughly ten miles from the moon's surface.

Chang'e-2 will conduct a series of tests over a six-month period. The Chinese agency is using this time as a preparation for the scheduled 2013 launch of the Chang'e-3, which China hopes will be its first unmanned landing on the moon.

The Chang'e Program, named for the mythical Chinese goddess that flew to the moon, is seen as an attempt to put China's space program on a level playing field with the likes of the United States and Russia.

The Chinese space agency is hoping to bring a moon rock sample back to Earth by 2017, and send a possible manned mission by 2020, state media reported.