Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - 34

SPACE EXPLORATION

by Andrew Jones

I

n July 2020 at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on
Lunar Learning Curve
the island province of Hainan, engineers will be preparWhile they do have an element of seeking international
prestige and domestic support, China's space efforts also
ing one of China's largest rockets for takeoff. The Long
have clear science objectives and even far-sighted goals.
March 5 has a payload capacity similar to the Delta IV Heavy,
These are apparent first in its long-game approach to the
which has carried craft such as NASA's Parker Solar Probe
Moon. China's plans for the Moon are extensive and make
into space. The payload for the Long March 5's launch this
use of accumulated engineering capabilities and technologisummer will be the country's first independent interplanecal achievements. It has already landed twice on the lunar
tary mission, joining NASA's Mars 2020 rover and the United
surface and has four more missions in the works.
Arab Emirates' Hope Mars mission this year in heading for
First came Chang'e 3, which landed in Mare Imbrium in
the Red Planet.
2013. Quietly and somewhat surprisingly, Chang'e 3 is still
The go-ahead for launch of Huoxing 1 ("Mars 1")
running. While the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover lost roving
depended on the successful return-to-flight of the Long
ability after two lunar days and ceased
March 5 in late December 2019, following
operating completely in 2016, the solarthe second launch's failure in 2017. While
With Queqiao in
powered lander still wakes up every lunar
there's certainly pressure to succeed, Chidaytime, protected from the extreme cold
na's fate is in its own hands. That wasn't
place to facilitate
of the night by a radioisotope heater unit.
the case less than a decade ago, when its
Updates these days come not from China,
first interplanetary adventure rode on
communications,
but from radio amateurs, who pick up
another nation's rocket. The first attempt
China was poised to
signals sent from the lander to ground
to reach Mars was a small orbiter that pigstations. Only one of eight payloads - the
gybacked on Russia's 2011 Phobos-Grunt
do something never
Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope (LUT) -
sample-return mission. But an upper stage
before attempted.
was reported working by 2017. Scientists
failure meant both spacecraft failed to
have used LUT's data to put an upper limit
leave Earth orbit.
on the amount of water within the tenuous lunar exosphere.
The upcoming Huoxing 1 mission will be much more
Despite a limited drive that totaled 114 meters (374 feet),
complex, reflecting China's growth in both capabilities and
the Yutu rover used its ground-penetrating radar to reveal
ambitions. The mission will consist of both an orbiter -
a surprising number of layers within the first dozen meters
equipped with a suite of science payloads and medium- and
or so of the surface. The result hinted at a more complex
high-resolution cameras, the latter comparable to HIRISE
geological history than researchers had previously thought
on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - and a small,
happened. However, a 2018 follow-up study by Chinese and
240-kilogram rover. With a design lifetime of 90 days, the
Italian scientists calls the interpretation into question, sugrover seeks to discover the distribution of water ice under
gesting that some of these layers are actually artifacts.
the Martian surface using ground-penetrating radar - an
When preparing Chang'e 3, China also manufactured a
instrument that has never been deployed on Mars's surface.
backup. After the successful 2013 landing, engineers repurIt will also carry its own laser-induced breakdown specposed this backup, Chang'e 4, for a more ambitious feat.
troscopy instrument, similar to that of Curiosity, as well as
The first clue as to what Chang'e 4's mission would be
equipment to analyze the climate, magnetic field, and surface
came in 2014 from the test mission Chang'e 5 T1, when the
composition. The landing site is expected to be within Utopia
spacecraft returned a stunning image of the lunar farside
Planitia, south of the Viking 2 lander. Assessing Martian
and distant Earth. Then in May 2018 a communications relay
morphology, geology, and climate are all major science goals
satellite, named Queqiao ("Magpie Bridge"), was launched
of the mission.
and sent into a halo orbit around the second LagrangPlacing an orbiter around Mars would match India's stunian point of the Earth-Moon system, tens of thousands of
ning 2014 achievement, but sticking the rover landing would
kilometers beyond the Moon. From this orbit, Queqiao is
be spectacular: Only NASA has successfully operated on
able to maintain a constant line of sight with both terrestrial
the Red Planet for more than a minute. That China is ready
ground stations and the lunar farside, which due to tidal
to make such an attempt demonstrates the huge strides its
locking never faces Earth.
space program has made.
With Queqiao in place to facilitate communications,
China was poised to do something never before attempted:
Chang'e 4 made the first-ever soft landing on the farside
HOW DO YOU SAY IT?
of the Moon in January 2019. The spacecraft descended
automatically, avoiding hazards to set down on a relatively
Chang'e is pronounced "chahng-uh," where the
flat area of Von Kármán Crater within the massive South
"uh" is like the e in "her."
Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin - a gigantic, ancient impact crater.
Shortly after landing, Chang'e 4 deployed the 140-kilogram,

34

JUNE 2 02 0 * SK Y & TELESCOPE



Sky & Telescope - June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky & Telescope - June 2020

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Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - Cover2
Sky & Telescope - June 2020 - 1
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