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China's first lunar rover lands on moon

15 December, 2013

BEIJING: China's lunar probe Chang'e-3, with the country's first moon rover onboard, successfully landed on the moon on Saturday night, marking the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

The lunar probe began to carry out soft-landing on the moon at 9 p.m. Saturday and touched down in Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, 11 minutes later, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

During the process, the probe decelerated from 15 km above the moon, stayed hovering at 100 meters from the lunar surface to use sensors to assess the landing area to avoid obstacles and locate the final landing spot, and descended slowly onto the surface. The success made China the third country, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to soft-land on the moon.

Compared to those other two countries, which have successfully conducted 13 soft-landings on the moon, China's soft-landing mission designed the suspension and obstacle-avoiding phases to survey the landing area much more precisely through fitted detectors, scientists said. The probe's soft-landing is the most difficult task during the mission, said Wu Weiren, the lunar program's chief designer.

Chang'e-3 relied on auto-control for descent, range and velocity measurements, finding the proper landing point, and free-falling.

The probe is equipped with shock absorbers in its four "legs" to cushion the impact of the landing, making Chang'e-3 the first Chinese spacecraft with "legs." Chang'e-3 adopted a variable thrust engine completely designed and made by Chinese scientists. It can realize continuous variation of thrust power ranging from 1,500 to 7,500 newtons, according to Wu Weiren.

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