The Chinese news agency Xinhua announced on July 31, 2012, that China will be sending its first unmanned lander to the Moon in the second half of 2013. Chang’e-3 will be the third lunar probe launched by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the first attempt at a landing. The lander/rover combination will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan province as part of China’s continuing Lunar Exploration program.

Named after a Chinese goddess of the moon, Chang’e-3 is the third in the Chang’e series. The previous were the lunar orbiters Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, which were launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively. The 2013 mission, consisting of a lander and an autonomous rover, is scheduled to land on the Moon at the Sinus Iridum (“Bay of Rainbows”), a plain of basaltic lava situated at latitude 44 degrees north that forms a northwestern extension to the Mare Imbrium. The mission duration is expected to be three months.

The rover component of the mission is a six-wheeled machine weighing 120 kg (260 lb) and carries a payload of 20 kg (44 lb). It’s powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which the CNSA says will allow the rover to operate during the lunar night. More importantly, it keeps the electronics from freezing and destroying the batteries, leaving a dead rover at sun up, which is what killed at least one Soviet rover. The rover can transmit real-time video, has a surface-analyzing radar and can collect and analyze soil samples.

The 100 kg (200 lb) lander is more than just a means of setting down the rover safely. It carries a suite of instruments of its own, including an astronomical telescope with extreme ultraviolet camera. China claims this will be the first lunar observatory in history.

Source: Xinhua via The Telegraph