Global lunar exploration programme created history on Wednesday when China's second moon mission, Chang'e-2, successfully entered the lunar orbit. This is the first time in the history of any moon exploration programme that a spacecraft has entered the lunar orbit just five days after launch. Chang'e 2 was launched on October 1. In contrast Chang'e 1 took about a fortnight to enter the lunar orbit.
According to Chinese national TV after 112 hours of flight, Chang'e-2 applied its brakes about 100 kms away from the moon and the process lasted for 33 minutes. The reduction in speed allowed the mooncraft to be captured by the moon's gravitational field. If there had been a slight deviation in this critical process, the mission would have flopped. The lunar orbit insertion is a nail biting moment and those in the mission operations control room heaved a sigh of relief when the process was completed successfully.
It may be recalled that when Chandrayaan-1 executed the lunar orbit insertion successfully on November 8,2008, vadas, idlis and dosas and coffee were distributed in the Chandrayaan mission operations control room in Bangalore. About 30 per cent of earlier moon missions of the former Soviet Union and the US failed at this point.
Chinese space scientists have been quoted as saying that the Chang'e-2 was able to reach the moon orbit in such a short period of time mainly because of the powerful Long March 3-C rocket. Do not be surprised--this could perhaps be a test run for reducing the flight time by China between earth and Mars.Infact during the q-a session at the just concluded International Astronautical Congress in Prague Nasa adminstrator, Charles Bolden, said that plans were underway to cut down the transit time to Mars by employing new propulsion methods.
Having reached the lunar orbit successfully, Chang'e-2 will be orbiting the moon at an altitude of 100 kms picking up scientific data, zooming down as low as 15 kms to image the lunar surface. This is also considered a technological breakthrough.
The TV network also stated that on Tuesday all equipment on board Chang'e 2 have been activated with the ground stations receiving the first set of data. The equipment on board detected a lot of information such as gamma radiation levels.
With a six-month life span, one of the primary roles of the Chang'e-2 mission is to identify a suitable landing zone on the moon for Chang'e-3 slated for launch in 2013. Chang'e-3 will make a soft landing and is expected to have a rover.