Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) (Chinese: 中国探月; pinyin: Zhōngguó Tànyuè) is a program of robotic explorations and human missions to the Moon undertaken by China National Space Administration (CNSA), People's Republic of China's space agency. It uses Chang'e lunar orbiters, rovers and soil return spacecraft and adapted Long March 3A, Long March 5/E and Long March 7 launch vehicles. The launch and the flight are monitored constantly by a TT&C System (Deep Space Tracking Network, with radio antennas of 50 m in Beijing, 40 m in Kunming, Shanghai and Ürümqi, forming a 3000 km VLBI antenna.) and the Ground Application System, responsible for downlink data reception.
The first spacecraft of the program, Chang'e 1, an un-manned lunar orbiter was successfully launched at Xichang Satellite Launch Center on October 24, 2007 (delayed from 17–19 April 2007) with further launches planned for 2008 or 2009 according to academician and chief designer Long Lehao.
Ouyang Ziyuan, one of the most prominent Chinese experts in geological research on underground nuclear testing and extraterrestrial materials, was the first to advocate not only the exploitation of the known huge lunar reserves of metals such as iron, but also the mining of lunar helium-3 as an ideal fuel for nuclear fusion power plants. He is now in charge of the Chang'e program. He is known to be one of the strongest supporters of the Chinese human lunar exploration program.
According to the plan, the program will go through four phases:
Orbital mission (Chang'e 1 & 2)
The first phase of the exploration program starts with the launch of two lunar orbiters.
Soft lander (Chang'e 3)
In the second phase of the lunar exploration program, two lunar landers will be launched to deploy moon rovers for surface exploration in a limited area. These missions were originally planned for 2012 requiring the use of the CZ-5/E heavy launch vehicle.
Currently, the second and third phases of the program will both require the availability of the heavy-lift Long March 5 (CZ-5) booster. Huang Chunping, the former head of rocket science at China's manned space program, told Xinhua news agency in March 2007 that the Long March 5 (CZ-5) rocket would be ready for launch 'in seven or eight years', which implied that CZ-5 would not be used in the second phase of the Chang'e program. It has been reported that the second phase might use a CZ-3B rocket instead.
It is said that the second phase of the program would include the launch of at least two landers, that will carry small remote-controlled Moon rovers to conduct an inspection of the moon's surface and probe the moon's resources. It would also provide data to determine the selection of a moon base.
On December 14, 2005, many aspects of the above information were confirmed, when it was reported "an effort to launch lunar orbiting satellites will be supplanted in 2007 by a program aimed at accomplishing an unmanned lunar landing. A program to return unmanned space vehicles from the moon will begin in 2012 and last for five years, until the manned program gets underway" in 2017.
A six-wheeled lunar vehicle due to be launched in 2013 has been under development since 2002 at the Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute where a specialized testing laboratory has been outfitted to replicate the lunar surface. The 1.5-meter high, 200-kilogram rover is designed to transmit video in real time, dig and analyze soil samples. In photographs, the rover appeared similar to NASA's unmanned Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers. Unlike the rechargeable lithium ion batteries used by those rovers, the Chinese model will eventually run on a radioisotope thermoelectric generator to ensure a constant energy supply. With an average speed of 100 meters/hour, it can negotiate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects.
Rival rovers are being developed by similar institutes in Beijing and elsewhere.
In late 2008, Chen Qiufa (deputy Minister of MIIT and head of SASTIND) indicated that Chang’e 3 Lunar Rover would launch in late 2011 on a Long March 3B rocket. The rover will conduct studies of the Moon’s geology, topography, and mineral and chemical composition.
In 2009, the 2013 launch date is confirmed, for a landing craft and rover called Chang'e-3. It will use variable thrusters to make a vertical landing on the surface near the moon's equator area. The lunar rover will leave Chang'e-3 and work on the surface for three months. Energy will be provided by radioisotope thermoelectric generator so that the rover survives lunar nights.
Automated sample return (Chang'e 4)
The third phase of the lunar exploration program is planned for 2017 with the use of the CZ-5/E heavy launch vehicle. On the basis of the lander mission, a lunar sample return mission will be undertaken, with up to two kilograms of lunar samples returned to Earth.
After that a manned lunar landing might be possible in 2025-2030.
New Moon rocket
The decision to develop a totally new moon rocket able to launch a 500 tons payload has been discussed in a 2006 conference by academician Zhang Guitian (张贵田), a liquid propellant rocket engine speciallist, who developed the CZ-2 and CZ-4A rockets engines.
Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency revealed in September 2006 in RIA Novosti that the two countries were indeed working on the Moon as partners, and that the Russian-Chinese space sub-commission's priority was to conclude a joint Moon exploration agreement by the end of that year.
Published - July 2009
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