China to launch moon rover mission to scout out locations for a lunar base that will one day be used for a mission to Mars

Daily Mail — Nov 30, 2013

China will tomorrow become the first country in almost 40 years to soft-land a probe on the moon, in a huge step forward for its ambitious space programme.

The nation will become the third in history to launch a lunar probe when the device, named ‘Jade Rabbit’ after a Chinese folklore character, launches at 5.30pm on Sunday evening, which is 1.30am local time.

The mission forms part of a plan in which China hopes to build a permanent lunar base in order to launch future missions to Mars within the next 15 years.

The probe, which can climb inclines of up to 30 degrees and travel up to 200 metres per hour, is targeted to land within a huge volcanic crater known as Sinus Iridum, which means the Bay of Rainbows, on about December 14.

‘Apart from launching astronauts into space, this is probably the most complex space mission attempted by China,’ Australian space analyst Morris Jones told AFP.

utu is designed to roam the lunar surface for at least 90 Earth days – three Lunar days – covering an area of about five square kilometres.

It will send probes beneath the surface as well as taking high-resolution images of the rock, a flat area formed from the molten basalt released by lunar volcanoes several billion years ago.

The journey of the Chang’e-3 probe and its final landing will be closely monitored by the European Space Agency (ESA), which is cooperating closely with China. ESA’s own launch station in Kourou, French Guiana, will immediately start receiving signals from the mission after take-off and it will upload commands to the probe on behalf of the Chinese control centre.

‘Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone,’ said Thomas Reiter, director of ESA’s human spaceflight operations.

In recent years, China has made considerable progress in its space programme.

In June, three Chinese astronauts spent 15 days in orbit and docked their craft with an experimental space laboratory.

In 2007, the country despatched an unmanned spacecraft called Chang’e to orbit the Moon.

The craft stayed in space for 16 months before being intentionally crashed on to the Moon’s surface.

The name Jade Rabbit was chosen after an online poll in which millions took part.

Ouyang Ziyuan, head of the moon rover project, told Xinhua earlier this week that the ancient beliefs had their origins in the marks left by impacts on the lunar landscape.

‘There are several black spots on the moon’s surface. Our ancient people imagined they were a moon palace, osmanthus trees, and a jade rabbit,’ he said.

China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, becoming the third country after Russia and the United States to achieve manned space travel independently.

The military-backed space programme is a source of national pride.

China is one of only three countries to have managed to independently send humans into space, the others being Russia and the US.