China will launch its second lunar probe, Chang’e II, at an appropriate time between Oct. 1 and 3, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in southwest China’s Sichuan Province announced Wednesday.
Fueling of the Long March CZ-3C rocket will begin on Sept. 30.
The lunar probe will test key technology for Chang’e III, collect data for future landings of Chang’e III and Chang’e IV, and provide high-resolution photographs of the landing area.
The Long March CZ-3C rocket will boost Chang’e II to a trans-lunar orbit, which has an apogee of 380,000 km from the earth, and then the satellite is expected to take about 112 hours, or nearly five days, to arrive at its lunar orbit.
According to China’s three-phase moon exploration road map, the country plans to launch its third unmanned probe to the moon, Chang’e III, in 2013. It is expected that a moon rock sample will be returned to earth in 2017.
The satellite, Chang’e II, was produced as an alternative to Chang’e I, which as launched in 2007.
The series of Chang’e probes is named after a legendary Chinese moon goddess.
Chang’e II is expected to circle the moon at a 100-km-high moon orbit and then seek an opportunity to enter into an elliptical orbit that allows the satellite to fly only 15 km above the moon.
Carrying a stronger camera than its predecessor, Chang’e II will take pictures of the planned landing area of the Chang’e III with a resolution of 1.5 meters from 15 km above the moon. The resolution on Chang’e I’s camera was 120 meters.
After the shooting, Chang’e II will be back to the 100-km orbit and detect the content of useful moon elements and materials and explore the characteristics of lunar soil and the space environment for further moon explorations.
According to the China Meteorological Administration (CMA), weather in space between Sept. 30 and early October is expected to be steady with less solar activity, which poses no negative impact on the launch of Chang’e II.
In Xichang, it would be mostly cloudy or overcast from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3 with some showers possible, said Chen Zhenlin, a spokesman with the CMA.
China launched its first lunar mission in 2007 when it successfully put Chang’e I into lunar orbit. The spacecraft transmitted pictures of the moon’s surface in January 2008 and ended its 16-month mission with a controlled crash on the moon in March 2009.