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China's Chang'e 3 enters lunar orbit in advance of landing attempt

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Xinhua reported on December 6, 2013 that the Chang’e 3 successfully entered lunar orbit at an altitude of 100 km from the lunar surface, after a 361 burn from its variable thrust engine. The lunar probe took 112 hours to voyage from Earth to lunar orbit.

The Planetary Society, a space exploration advocacy group, notes from Chinese media that the current plan is for the Chang’e 3 and its Jade Rabbit rover to touch down at the Bay of Rainbows on the lunar surface on December 14, 2013. Jade Rabbit will deploy from the Chang’e 3 about five hours later. The next day, during a communications window, Jade Rabbit and Chang’e 3 with photograph one another and send the images back to Earth.

Chang’e 3 is part of a long term Chinese program to explore the moon and eventually exploit it for resources. Two lunar orbiters, Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2, have already flown. There will be one more rover mission and two sample return mission. China is mulling launching humans to the lunar surface sometime in the 2020s.

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