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Chang'e-1 completes long journey to moon successfully


The CCTV footage shows that China's first lunar probe Chang'e-1 successfully completed its 1,580,000-km flying journey to the moon after entering its final working orbit on Wednesday's morning, Nov. 7, 2007. (Photo: CCTV.com)

    By Xinhua writer Quan Xiaoshu

    BEIJING, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- China's first lunar probe, Chang'e-1, completed its nearly two-million-km journey to the moon successfully on Wednesday morning and entered its working orbit.

    The probe, following instructions of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), started its third braking at 8:24 a.m. and entered a 127-minute round polar circular orbit at 8:34 a.m.

    "It marks success of the probe's long flight to the moon," said Luan Enjie, chief commander of China's lunar probe project.

    TV footages showed work staff in the ground control center hailing the success with colored newsletters featuring a black headline "Circling the Moon, We Made It!" on the front page.

    The gray-haired Luan and silver-haired Sun Jiadong, chief designer of the project, wearing smiles and holding hands together tightly.

    "The satellite entered the designed working orbit just in time and very accurately today," said Sun, who has joined hands with Luan for more than a decade to develop, test and carry out the country's ambitious lunar probe project.

    Ye Peijian, chief commander and designer in charge of the satellite system, considered it "a landmark moment". "It proves that we have the ability to send our satellite to circle around the moon."

    China sent its first satellite into the Earth orbit in 1970, and has recorded more breakthroughs in its space program in recent years.

    The country carried out its maiden piloted space flight in October 2003, making it the third country after the former Soviet Union and the United States to have sent men into space. In October 2005, China completed its second manned space flight, with two astronauts on board.

    "Chang'e-1 has presented an extraordinary achievement, since it's the first time that Chinese scientists manage to maneuver a satellite 390,000 km away from the earth," said Wang Yejun, chief engineer of the BACC.

    "The probe will travel along the current orbit at a stable altitude of 200 km above the moon's surface. In each circle, it will always pass the two polars," Wang said.

    The round orbit is also the final destination of the probe, where it is supposed to start carrying out all the planned scientific exploration tasks.

The CCTV footage shows that China's first lunar probe Chang'e-1 successfully completed its 1,580,000-km flying journey to the moon after entering its final working orbit on Wednesday's morning, Nov. 7, 2007. (Photo: CCTV.com)

    "The probe's precise entry into the orbit has laid a solid foundation for its future work, and we are confident that Chang'e-1 will continue to fulfill the aims step by step," said Ma Xingrui, general manager of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASTC) in charge of the rocket and satellite systems.

    The 2,350-kg satellite carried eight probing facilities, including a stereo camera and interferometer, an imager and gamma/x-ray spectrometer, a laser altimeter, a microwave detector, a high energy solar particle detector and a low energy ion detector.

    According to the project's plan, Chang'e-1 will open all the instruments aboard it to start scientific explorations after a period of orbit testing.

    "Currently, all the facilities are in very good conditions. Next, scientists need to maintain smooth communications between the ground and the satellite and keep it in the orbit," said ZhangHe, director of the CASTC's space technology research institute.

    Chang'e-1 is expected to fulfill four scientific objectives, including a three-dimensional survey of the Moon's surface, analysis of the abundance and distribution of elements on lunar surface, an investigation of the characteristics of lunar regolith and the powdery soil layer on the surface, and an exploration of the circumstance between the earth and the moon.

    "One of its major tasks is to probe the mineral elements on the moon, especially those not existent on the earth," Zhang said.

    "The lunar regolith is abundant in helium-3, a clean fuel that may support the earth's energy demands for more than a century," she said, admitting that there is still a long way to go from the probing of the element to its actual use.

    Chang'e-1 was originally designed to stay on the orbit for one year, but Tang Geshi, an official in charge of the orbital control with BACC, estimated that smooth operations and precise maneuvers may have saved 200 kg of fuel and help prolong the probe's life span.

    In the probe's 15-day flight, the BACC cancelled two orbital corrections, which saved a lot of fuel, as Chang'e-1 had been running accurately on the expected trajectory. In total, the probe experienced four orbital transfers, one orbital correction and three brakings and each of the maneuver was very fuel-consuming.

    "All the maneuvers in the flight have been completed precisely. The accuracy is much higher than our expectation," Ye Peijian said.

    Li Jian, an official with the BACC, said the satellite is designed to take ground orders on Nov. 18 to position all the instruments towards moon, a posture facilitating the probing work, and the maneuver may last 100 minutes.

    However, Zhou Jianliang, deputy chief engineer of the BACC, revealed that they are considering to give the order ahead of the schedule, since the satellite is in "a very good state".

    The satellite will also position its solar panel towards the sun for power generating and the directional antenna towards the earth to allow data to be transmitted back to the earth.

    Chang'e-1 will relay the first black-and-white picture of the moon after the instruments are positioned to the moon.

    "Actually, what the probe transmits back is just abstract data, which will need six hours to be processed into a two-dimensional picture and about a day into a three-dimensional one," Li Jian said.

    Sun Huixian, deputy chief designer of the satellite system, said in the afternoon's press conference that pictures transmitted back by Chang'e-1 will not show footprints left by U.S. astronauts who landed on the moon in 1969 Apollo 11 mission due to insufficient resolution.

    The probe is also expected to transmit back data of 32 pieces of music, which can be played by the radio stations or downloaded from the Internet after being decoded, Li Jian said.

    The music include the national anthem, "The East is Red", a tribute to Mao Zedong, which was broadcast in 1970 from the country's first man-made earth satellite, and some moon-themed songs, such as Chinese pop diva Faye Wong's rendition of a famous Song Dynasty poem.

    "The tone quality of 'The East is Red' may sound more clearly and smoothly than in 1970," Li added.

    By mid January of next year, all the probe's instruments will be able to finish scanning the moon's entire surface at least once, said Li Guoping, spokesman with the China National Space Administration (CNSA), at the press conference.

    Chang'e-1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess who flew to the moon, blasted off on a Long March 3A carrier rocket on Oct. 24from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern Sichuan Province.

    Zhu Jin, curator of the Beijing Planetarium, believed that it will boost a fervor for astronomical and aerospace knowledge among the common public, especially the younger generation, more of whom may step into relevant fields in their future study and career.

    China's lunar orbiter project has cost 1.4 billion yuan (187 million U.S. dollars) since research and development of the project was approved at the beginning of 2004.

    The launch of the orbiter kicks off the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover at around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research at around 2017.

    "We want to open part of the second-phase projects for public tender to attract competent institutions and enterprises, including scientific research organs, universities and private companies, to participate," said Li Guoping.

    "With the expansion of China's space explorations, we'd like to encourage private enterprises to join the space technology development and attract social funds into the research, construction and trade in the aerospace field," Li said.

    China has recently announced that it's working on a new generation of carrier rockets, Long March 5, which is more powerful and able to lift more weight to the moon.

    The new rockets may catch the third phase and will take off from a new space launch center in the southern island province of Hainan, which is expected to be completed in 2012 and formally put into use in 2013.

    There has been no specific timetable for the development of a space station, Li Guoping said, adding that Chinese scientists are willing to participate in the experiments carried out in the International Space Station.

    The launch of Chang'e-1 came shortly after Japan launched its first lunar probe, Kaguya, in mid-September, while India is planning to send its own lunar probe into space next April, sparking off concerns of a space race in Asia.

    But Luan Enjie, chief commander of China's lunar orbiter project, said that "China will not be involved in moon race with any other country and in any form."

    "China will, in pursuing its policy of peaceful use of airspace, share the achievements of the lunar exploration with the whole world," he told Xinhua.

    The CNSA announced that data obtained by this probe will be open to scientists all over the world for their study.

    In the past 49 years, the United States, Soviet Union, Europe and Japan have launched 123 moon missions, among which 6 manned missions successfully sent 12 people to land on the moon.

    (Xinhua reporters Wu Qiong, Wu Chen, Huang Quanquan also contributed to this story.) 

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