China successfully launched an experimental space mission of Friday in an effort to expand its space exploration program. The test is a first stage of a complex research program with a second episode scheduled for 2017. In three years from now, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) will send another mission to bring back samples of Moon soil.
“The mission is to obtain experimental data and validate re-entry technologies such as guidance, navigation and control, heat shield and trajectory design for a future touch-down on the moon by Chang’e-5, which is expected to be sent to the moon, collect samples and return to Earth in 2017,” iCrossChina reported.
The spacecraft will fly to the Moon and back to test a key technology for the actual 2017 mission. After half-orbiting the Moon at a height of 236,000 miles, the rocket will return and land in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
The main difficulty will be to control the landing. Hu Hao, chief designer in the exploration program, told China Daily that the last stage of the flight is so complex that it cannot be simulated on Earth.
The team behind the mission decided to use the Soviet developed model of reentry. By skipping reentry several times, the spacecraft will reduce its speed to ensure a safe entry by avoiding overheating.
China previously launched several other missions to the Moon. All these projects are part of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program called Cheng’e, after the Chinese mythological Moon deity.
A Lunar orbiter launched in 2007; a second improved orbiter sent in 2010; and a lander and rover combo in 2013 are the first three Cheng’e missions. The rover called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, was the first one to operate on the Moon since the 1970s, when the Soviet Union ran an intensive exploration program.
China plans to one day send a manned mission to Moon. Since 2003, China became the third country to send a manned space mission after the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. A next step is to setup a permanent space station. The agency already chose its name, Tiangong 2.
Being able to develop a space program signals increased scientific capabilities and the Chinese government uses the occasion to indicate the country’s economic success. However, the move is not unusual, as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. governments acted similarly.