China Within Months Of Launching Moon Orbiter
China is poised to launch a moon orbiter vehicle that likely will lift off sometime in the July-December time frame, perhaps in September, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
The report stated that China is losing no time in preparing the lunar orbiter, Chang’e I.
This development comes as the United States space program, which soared to the forefront of space programs by putting the first man on the moon, now faces a half-decade gap during which NASA won’t even be able to transport an astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) in low Earth orbit.
From the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010 to the first flight of the Orion-Ares next generation crew exploration vehicle in 2015, the United States space program will be dependent on the kindness of others such as Russia or commercial space transport providers to take astronauts and cargo to the ISS.
“The moon probe project is the third milestone in China’s space technology after satellite and manned spacecraft projects, and a first step for us in exploring deep space,” Xinhua quoted Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Sun, also vice director of the Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defence, made the remarks when briefing students at Beijing Jiaotong university on the Chinese space program, according to Xinhua.
The CNSA moon exploration program is divided into three phases – “circling the moon,” “landing on the moon” and “back to earth,” he said.
Launch of the orbiter is the first phase of China’s moon exploration program, and the second phase will involve the launching of a moon rover, he said.
Earlier reports said the moon rover will be launched around 2012.
In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples, Sun said.
Meanwhile, the United States may not return to the moon until 2019 or 2020, and a plan to establish a permanent manned outpost on the moon won’t begin until years later.
In contrast, the fast-moving moon program in China is just one facet of a huge push to modernize the military might of China, according to Sun. “Space technology reflects a nation’s overall power and is an important facet of the modernization of national defense,” Xinhua quoted him saying.
Cosmonauts’ Spacewalk Set For Wednesday On Space Station
Mission managers gave a go for a Russian spacewalk Wednesday.
Cosmonauts on the International Space Station (ISS) will install orbital debris protection panels on the Zvezda service module, NASA announced.
Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov also will install a GPS antenna cable that works with Automated Transfer Vehicle navigation systems.
This will be the 18th Russian spacewalk to support ISS assembly and maintenance. The spacewalk is scheduled to begin at 2:20 p.m. ET and last approximately six hours.
NASA TV will cover it.
Another spacewalk by the cosmonauts is set for June 6. Two days after that, Space Shuttle Atlantis is slated to launch next week on Mission STS-117 to the ISS.