Scientists expect treasure trove of data

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

Researchers in Hong Kong say probe will boost moon surface surveys

The launch of the Chang'e I lunar probe was the result of many breakthroughs and would yield a wealth of significant data for space researchers, scientists said yesterday.

Officials from the Lunar Orbiter Project said Chang'e I was carrying about 130kg of research equipment aloft for the mission, including a variety of stereo cameras, an imaging spectrometer and a laser altimeter which China is using for the first time in space.

Mapping expert Chen Yongqi , based in Hong Kong, is one of four of the city's scientists invited to study the data transmitted from the orbiter. He said it would provide more reliable and valuable data for moon surface surveys.

'I am very excited about getting new information sent from the Chang'e I,' Professor Chen said. 'This is the first time I, and other Chinese scientists, will analyse materials we have gathered.'

Professor Chen said he was the leader of a group analysing the moon's surface but that up until now, they had had to rely on data supplied by other countries.

'In the past, my study group could only rely on data provided by the US,' he said. 'I am expecting to get some more comprehensive data from Chang'e I because it has the most advanced equipment in the world to collect information, even though the technologies are [already] commonly used by the US, Japan and other countries.'

Kwok Sun, dean of the University of Hong Kong's faculty of science and one of the city's researchers, said the satellite launch signified two major technical breakthroughs in China's space exploration. 'It's the first time that a [Chinese] satellite has left an Earth orbit to go into a lunar orbit. In terms of technology, it's more difficult than the previous launches,' Professor Kwok said.

He said the project's difficulties included the need for highly accurate orbital calculations to determine the precise moment when the satellite could leave an Earth orbit to plot a path around the moon.

The second major breakthrough, he said, was that Chang'e I was a 'purely scientific satellite', which was unprecedented for China. 'All the previous satellites were either for military, surveying or communication purposes,' he said.

'The orbiter is expected to collect scientific data that includes assessments of the distribution of chemical elements, detection of solar winds and surveys of the moon's surface.

'The scientific data is very important for the international community,' he said.

According to earlier reports, Chang'e I is expected to transmit images of the moon about a month after launch.

Professor Kwok said that about 120 researchers were involved in the project and their first meeting to discuss data was expected to occur in May.