Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
China’s space program was dealt another setback on Monday when it lost a $250 million Earth observation satellite just days after successfully launching its first lunar rover.
The satellite, developed by China and Brazil, was lost when a Long March 4B rocket failed to put the spacecraft into its proper orbit.
“The rocket malfunctioned during the flight, and the satellite failed to enter orbit,” sources told the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) initially issued a statement overnight that heralded a successful launch. However, news reports later surfaced from Chinese and Brazilian media reporting the rocket failed to enter orbit.
INPE said in a statement that preliminary evaluations suggest the CBERS 3 satellite returned back to Earth.
“Chinese engineers responsible for the construction of the launch vehicle are evaluating the causes of the problem,” the statement said. “The data obtained show that the subsystems of CBERS 3 functioned normally during the [launch].”
CBERS 3 was the fourth China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite launched since 1999. The satellite featured two imaging instruments and was designed for a three-year lifespan. Its cameras were expected to collect black-and-white imagery with a resolution of about 16 feet. Sensors equipped on CBERS 3 included thermal and infrared imagers capable of distinguishing different types of vegetation and locations where water is stored and consumed.
“Brazil and China have achieved fruitful results in the past 25 years of cooperation in the (sic) space, and are confident in continuing this success,” INPE said in a statement.
China just recently launched a six-wheeled lunar rover mission last week known as Yutu. The vehicle was launched by a Long March 3B rocket. The Chinese space agency expects Yutu to land in the Moon’s northern hemisphere in mid-December.
“This will be the third robotic rover mission to land on the lunar surface, but the Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust,” BBC News Science Editor Paul Rincon said. “The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660 ft) per hour, according to its designer the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.”
Yutu will be landing in a flat volcanic plain that is part of a larger feature known as Mare Imbrium that forms the right eye of the “Man in the Moon.” China will be joining the US and the former Soviet Union as the only countries to compete a lunar rover mission.
Eventually, China said it hopes to launch a manned mission to the moon, as well as establish a permanent space station within the next seven years.