The Chang’e-3 mission will include an unmanned soft landing on the moon and the release of a moon rover to prospect the surface and interior of the moon. China is planning conduct a landing in 2013 with Chang’e-3 and a sample return in 2017.
The 2008 lunar rover prototype could travel at an average speed of 100 meters per hour, is 1.5 meters high and weighs 200 kilograms.
The six-wheeled rover has been under development since 2002 at the Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute, where a specialized testing laboratory has been outfitted to replicate the lunar surface. The 1.5 meter high, 120 kilograms (260 lb) rover includes a 20 kilograms (44 lb) payload. With assembly completed by May 2010, it is designed to transmit video in real time and dig and analyze soil samples. With an average speed of 100 metres per second (330 ft/s), it can navegate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects.
Energy will be provided by radioisotope thermoelectric generator so that the rover can operate through lunar nights.
Chang’e 3 is scheduled to land on latitude 44° North at Sinus Iridum, a plain of basaltic lava that forms a northwestern extension to the Mare Imbrium.
Lunar orbiter Chang’e 1 was launched on 24 October 2007 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center and entered lunar orbit on 5 November. The spacecraft operated until 1 March 2009, when it was taken out of orbit and it impacted the surface of the Moon. Data gathered by Chang’e 1 was used to create the most accurate and highest resolution 3-D map ever created of the entire lunar surface.
Its sister orbital probe Chang’e 2 was launched on 1 October 2010 to conduct research at a 100km high Moon orbit as the preparation for a soft landing by Chang’e 3. Chang’e 2 is similar to Chang’e 1 with some improvements, including a better camera with a resolution of one meter.