While the U.S. and Russia haven’t spent much time in the last few decades focused on getting back to the moon, China is stepping up their space program and will soon perform the first soft landing on the moon in 37 years. I bet it’s pretty dusty up there. The nation’s Chang’e-3 mission is set to launch a lander and rover (named Yutu by a popular vote) on December 1 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan province. (Technically, it’ll be December 2 their time.)
It will take around five days for Yutu to make it into lunar orbit, and it’s expected to land inside Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, on December 14. There’s a joke to be made here about putting Chinese food on board so that it would get to the moon in 30-45 minutes, but it feels slightly derogatory, and this is a celebratory news story.
The European Space Agency (ESA) assist China, using its tracking stations to provide support for the mission. Following liftoff, the Kourou, French Guiana station will begin its data relay and will upload commands to the craft on behalf of the Chinese control center. They’ll also track the descent and landing.
“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 the ESA’s Director for Human Spaceflight and Operations, Thomas Reiter. “Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone.”
“After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35 m-diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide ‘delta-DOR’ location measurement,” says Erik Soerensen, who will run the external mission tracking support at the ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.
This is the first step in a long overdue effort for China to become a big name in space travel and research. They already have a lofty goal of getting a
The rover’s name, Yutu, comes from Chinese folklore, and is the pet rabbit of Chang’e, a moon goddess with an interesting story that you can learn more about here.