Sunday, December 1, 2013

International Push to the Planets

India's Mangalyaan Mars mission lifts off from Sriharikota.

India and China have set their sights on missions to far off worlds. On November 5, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a PSLV-C25 rocket carrying the Mangalyaan mission on its way to the Red Planet. Without many of the resources the US includes in NASA, India is trying to achieve it's mission at a very low cost - only about $73 million. After six orbits of the Earth, the craft launched itself on a slingshot orbit around the Sun (to gain speed from the gravity assist). The MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) is expected to arrive at Mars next September, and the challenge will be to get the craft into Mars' orbit. After arriving, it will makes studies of the ground composition and analyze elements of the atmosphere.

Long March 3B liftoff from Xichang launch facilities in Sichuan. Xinhua credit.

Early Sunday morning China sent its Yutu rover on its way to the Moon atop a Long March rocket. Lifting off from Sichuan, China, the Long March successfully placed the lunar craft on a trajectory to the Moon. Solar panels have deployed and are powering the spacecraft during its journey. The robotic rover, Yutu, has a plutonium-powered motor for its exploration of the lunar surface. The attempt to land the rover on its surface-lander craft will be made on December 14. If all goes well, it should arrive in the Bay of Rainbows (Sinus Iridum) and begin exploring shortly after. The Chang'e 3 mission is a testbed of topographic recognition systems, chemical analysis, and lunar dust radar penetrator instruments. By 202, China hopes to launch a sample-return mission.

China's Yutu lunar rover. AFP credit.

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