China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe has successfully entered lunar orbit


December 8, 2013

China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe has entered orbit around the Moon (Photo: Gregory H. Revera via Wikipedia)

China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe has entered orbit around the Moon (Photo: Gregory H. Revera via Wikipedia)

The Beijing Aerospace Control Center reports that China's Chang'e-3 lunar probe successfully entered lunar orbit Friday at 5:53 pm Beijing time.

The Chang'e-3 probe, carrying with it the Yu Tu (Jade Rabbit) lunar rover, was launched from the Xichang Satellite Center at 1:30 am Monday morning, and was promptly inserted into the desired Earth-Moon transfer orbit, requiring only two minor course corrections on the way.

After four days and 16 hours in this transfer orbit, Chang'e-3's internal rocket engine was used to slow the spacecraft, allowing it to enter into a circular lunar orbit some 100 km (63 miles) above the Moon's surface. The probe's variable thrust engine, which can supply from 1,500 to 7,500 Newtons (150 to 765 kg) of thrust, fired for a total of 361 seconds to complete the lunar orbit insertion maneuver.

Over the next week, Chang'e-3 will remain in orbit preparing and testing systems for the landing in Sinus Iridum, presently scheduled for December 14. The level of live coverage that will be available for that event is as yet unclear, but we can hope.

Source: Xinhua News Agency

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer. All articles by Brian Dodson

They are getting alarmingly good at this sort of thing.


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Trent Smith

As a matter of interest (to me anyway) why is it that, 40 years on from the Apollo missions, this spacecraft took roughly the same amount of time to reach the moon? Surely, our rockets are going faster than they did back then? If not is there some cosmic constant that means it's always going to take the same time using conventional (?) rocket technology? MW

Martin Winlow

Regarding the time it takes to get to the Moon: You can go faster, but it means you need more propellant to slow down again to go into orbit around the Moon once you get there. The more propellant you need to eventually slow down means the heavier the initial rocket is, which means even more propellant to initially get off the ground.

It's all tradeoffs. The Apollo missions calculated a reasonable tradeoff. And that calculation seems to work just fine for the Chinese as well.

Roger Garrett
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