Helping China to the Moon

Kourou tracking station

29 November 2013Shortly after China’s Chang’e-3 spacecraft departs Earth to land on the Moon, ESA’s network of tracking stations will swing into action, providing crucial support for the vessel’s five-day lunar cruise.

China’s Chang’e-3, named after the mythological goddess of the Moon, is scheduled for lift off on 1 December from the Xichang launch base in China’s Sichuan province on a journey to deposit a lander and a six-wheeled rover on the lunar surface.

The landing, in the Sea of Rainbows on 14 December, will be the first since Russia’s Luna-24 in 1976.

Immediately after liftoff, ESA’s station in Kourou, French Guiana, will start receiving signals from the mission and uploading commands on behalf of the Chinese control centre.

The tracking will run daily throughout the voyage to the Moon. Then, during descent and after landing, ESA’s deep-space stations will pinpoint the craft’s path and touchdown.

“We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon,” says ESA’s Thomas Reiter, Director for Human Spaceflight and Operations.

“Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone.”

The effort is being run from the Estrack Control Centre in ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

Following lunar mission progress

Chang’e-3 liftoff is set for around 18:00 GMT on 1 December, and the 15 m-diameter dish in Kourou will pick up the first signals around 18:44 GMT.

Working with Chinese tracking stations, Kourou will support the mission through lunar orbit entry on 6 December continuing until just prior to its descent to the surface, expected around mid-day on 14 December.

The landing and rover operations on the Moon will be commanded via two Chinese tracking stations at Kashi, in the far west of China, and at Jiamusi, in the northeast.

“After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35 m-diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide ‘delta-DOR’ location measurement,” says Erik Soerensen, responsible for external mission tracking support at ESOC.

“Using this delta-DOR technique, you can compute locations with extreme accuracy, which will help our Chinese colleagues to determine the precise location of the lander.”

Cebreros and New Norcia stations watch lunar landing

Together with Cebreros, New Norcia will record Chang’e-3’s radio signals during landing, which will help the Chinese space agency to reconstruct the trajectory for future reference.

A team of engineers from China will be on hand in Darmstadt. “While we’re very international at ESOC, hardly anyone speaks Mandarin, so having Chinese colleagues on site will really help in case of any unforeseen problems,” says Erik.

“Both sides are using international technical standards to enable our stations and ESOC to communicate with their mission and ground systems.”

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Meeting of heads of ESA and China Manned Space Agency



Visit of Mr Wang Zhaoyao to ESA Director General
 
Chinese officials welcomed to ESA
 
 

8 October 2012
 
Wang Zhaoyao, Director General of the China Manned Space Agency, accompanied by the first Chinese female astronaut, Liu Yang, met ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain at the Agency’s headquarters in Paris on 8 October.
 
Mr Dordain congratulated Mr Wang on the successful Shenzhou-9 mission, stating how impressed he had been when learning of the flawless automatic and manual docking with Tiangong-1.

Following earlier discussions, the two sides have agreed to continue talking about possible avenues for cooperation between ESA and the China Manned Space Agency (CMSA).

 

A delegation from CMSA and the Chinese Astronaut Centre will visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne in the near future with a view to sharing experiences in astronaut training.

Another potential area of cooperation could be joint scientific experiments carried out on the Tiangong space laboratory.

China Shenzhou-9 Mission Launches

China launched its fourth crewed spaceflight — including the first female taikonaut — on a mission to perform the nation’s first piloted docking with their orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module.. 

This undated photo shows Liu Yang attending a training. Liu Yang, 34, is one of the three taikonauts who will be carried by the Shenzhou-9 spaceship for China's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. (Xinhua/Qin Xian'an)

This undated photo shows Liu Yang attending a training. Liu Yang, 34, is one of the three taikonauts who will be carried by the Shenzhou-9 spaceship for China’s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. (Xinhua/Qin Xian’an)

This undated photo shows Liu Yang, 34, one of the three taikonauts who will be carried by the Shenzhou-9 spaceship for China's first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. Liu was selected as a taikonaut in 2010. (Xinhua/Qin Xian'an)

This undated photo shows Liu Yang, 34, one of the three taikonauts who will be carried by the Shenzhou-9 spaceship for China’s first manned space docking mission with the orbiting Tiangong-1 space lab module. Liu was selected as a taikonaut in 2010. (Xinhua/Qin Xian’an)