A resurgence in Lunar Exploration

November 12, 2007

SmartLunar

Is there a race heating up with lunar orbiters suddenly becoming the focus of several nations around the globe?

The Chang’e 1 is an unmanned lunar orbiter from China’s CLEP that entered its one-year long lunar orbit early Monday. The $187 million mission is a key stepping stone in China’s quest to develop a lunar exploration program that includes a lunar rover and a probe to return soil samples from the moon’s surface. The spacecraft is named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, Chang’e.

Only a month back, Japan completed the launch of its own lunar orbiter – Kaguya. KAGUYA consists of a Main Orbiter at 100km altitude and two small satellites (Relay Satellite and VRAD Satellite) in polar orbit. The scientific instruments on board the Main Orbiter will be used for the global mapping of lunar surface, magnetic field measurement, and gravity field measurement. According to JAXA, the name Kaguya was inspirted by the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter.

The name KAGUYA originates from “Kaguya-hime (Princess Kaguya)” in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari). and many people overlapped the images of SELENE going to the Moon on an exploration mission and Kaguya-hime going back to the Moon.

India is also planning its own launch of a lunar orbiter in April of 2008 – named Chandrayaan. Over a two-year period, it is intended to survey the lunar surface to produce a complete map of its chemical characteristics and 3-dimensional topography. Chandrayaan literally means moon-craft in sanskrit.

And finally, USA is planning to put the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter around the moon in October 2008. The first mission of NASA’s Robotic Lunar Exploration Program, it is designed to map the surface of the Moon and characterize future landing sites in terms of terrain roughness, usable resources, and radiation environment with the ultimate goal of facilitating the return of humans to the Moon.

Space race or not, these missions do add to the nation’s credibility for putting satellites in orbit. Apart from scouting for resources in Moon, these missions are also prove the technical merit of the nations involved, and could be a great source for technology exports.

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