Following Lunar Landing, China Outlines Next Steps

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China completed its first robotic Moon landing Dec. 14 and two days later offered a glimpse of its plans for a follow-on mission launching in 2017, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

In a Dec. 16 report, Xinhua quoted Wu Zhijian, a spokesman for the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, as saying work on the follow-on mission, dubbed Chang’e 5, is proceeding smoothly. The report did not provide much in the way of specifics about Chang’e 5, but did say a lunar sample-return mission is part of China’s near-term plan. 

The Chang’e 3 mission, consisting of a lander and a 140-kilogram rover dubbed Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, which separated from the lander Dec. 15, represents the conclusion of the second phase of China’s lunar exploration program, Xinhua said. “The lunar program will enter the next stage of unmanned sampling and returning, which will include Chang’e 5 and 6 missions, according to Wu,” the story said.

Meanwhile, the Chang’e 3 lander and rover were placed into hibernation mode Dec. 25 and 26, respectively, in preparation for the lunar night, which lasts for 14 Earth days, Xinhua reported Dec. 26. During the lunar night, the temperature at the surface drops to minus 180 degrees Celsius and there is no sunlight to power the solar panels aboard the craft. 

Yutu, which is equipped with a radioisotope heat source, is expected to resume plying the lunar surface once daylight returns, taking photographs and gathering and analyzing soil samples, Xinhua said. The rover is designed to operate for three months, while the lander is expected to last for about a year, according to Xinhua reports.