A Chinese spacecraft successfully entered a stable lunar orbit on Monday, according to government sources. The unmanned service lab is in an eight-hour orbit around the moon, which brings it within 125 miles of the lunar surface at its closest point, and as far out as 3,293 miles at its furthest away point.
Details on China’s moon mission
China’s moon mission first arrived in orbit a couple of months ago. The orbiter flew back to Earth in November, and the service module was moved into a position in into sync with Earth’s orbit.
The service lab, carrying support systems for a spaceship, will collect further data to help i n planning of the Chang’e 5 moon mission planned for 2017.
If all goes well, Chang’e 5 will make a soft landing on the moon and collect around four pounds of rock and soil samples.
If China’s moon mission is successful, China will become only the third country after the United States and Russia to have successfully completed a lunar mission.
Planning to mine Helium 3
The Times reports that the Chang’e 5 mission is examining the possibility of mining the moon for a rare helium isotope that could be used to power fusion reactors.
Helium 3 is very rare on Earth, but it has been deposited on the moon in large quantities by solar winds. Helium 3 could theoretically power clean fusion plants. Moreover, it is not radioactive and a great deal of energy can be derived from a small quantity of helium 3.
Professor Ouyang Ziyuan, the chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, noted that the moon is ‘so rich’ in helium 3, that it could “solve humanity’s energy demand for around 10,000 years at least.”
Chinese space program
China has had an active space program for more than 20 years. The country sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, and is the only other country besides Russia and the U.S. to achieve manned space travel on its own.
A few years ago, China put a temporarily crewed space station into orbit. Their lunar exploration program has already launched two successful orbiting lunar probes, and in 2013 China sent a rover to explore the surface of the moon.
Space experts note that China also has hinted about a crewed mission to the moon in the future.