NASA sending lunar orbiter and China sending lunar rover this year

China has far more ambitious near and mid term space program objectives than NASA does at this time. NASA is sending a robotic orbiter. China is sending a lunar rover. If China can keep to its timetable they plan to have a manned lunar mission in 2017. This would be 48 years after NASA. However, NASA does not have the current capability to return a man to the moon. China also plans a manned lunar base.

1. NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that is scheduled for a Sept 6 2013 launch. LADEE will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust. A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well.

The LADEE spacecraft’s modular common spacecraft bus, or body, is an innovative way of transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly-line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles. NASA’s Ames Research Center designed, developed, built and tested the spacecraft.

2. China has confirmed it is on track to land a rover on the Moon later this year to scoot across the surface analyzing dust and rock samples.

The Chang’e-3 probe, first revealed last year, is a 100kg, six-wheeled rover that will spend three months traversing the lunar landscape under human control. The spacecraft will use the Moon’s gravity to slow down, orbit the satellite, and then soft-land using rocket propulsion.

This will be the first time the Chinese have landed a spacecraft on a non-terrestrial surface and the Chang’e-3 will be a crucial test of both Chinese aeronautics and rocketry control systems. The rover will pave the way for a future manned mission to the Moon, and a possible space colony on the surface.

Like NASA’s early rovers on Mars, the Chang’e-3 will be primarily solar powered and will carry a ground-facing radar on its belly capable of penetrating up to 30 meters into the lunar regolith, as well as a alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and an infrared spectrometer.

China plans a manned mission to the lunar surface possibly as soon as 2017 – although he authorities aren’t setting themselves a Kennedyesque deadline and say they’ll go when they are ready. Once there, however, the Chinese government has said it plans to build the first manned lunar outpost.