China Launches Second Lunar Orbiter

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China launched the Chang’e 2 unmanned lunar probe Oct. 1 on a six-month mission to scout a landing site for the robotic rover it plans to send to the Moon in 2012, according China’s official Xinhua news agency.

The Long March 3C rocket carrying Chang’e 2 lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province at 6:59 p.m. local time, placing the spacecraft into an Earth-Moon transit orbit, Xinhua said.

Chinese officials expect Chang’e 2 to arrive at the Moon in five days, faster than the 12 days it took Chang’e 1 to reach its destination following its October 2007 launch.

Equipped with a 1.5-meter-resolution camera, Chang’e 2 is designed to orbit the Moon at an altitude of 15 kilometers.

Wu Weiren, the mission’s chief designer, told Xinhua the probe might be commanded to crash into the Moon, fly farther out into space or return to Earth orbit.

China plans to follow the Chang’e 3 lunar lander mission with a rover mission around 2017 to collect rock and soil samples for return to Earth.

Wu told Xinhua China has no timetable for a human lunar mission.