Chang'e probe claims 'finest' lunar image

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 November, 2008, 12:00am

China laid claim yesterday to capturing the world's 'finest and most complete' lunar image, capping the end of the first stage of the country's moon exploration programme.

The next lunar probe, with better sensors and technology, would be launched before the end of 2011 to pave the way for an unmanned landing in 2012, the mainland's space agency said.

The nation's first lunar craft, Chang'e I, blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan on October 24 last year carrying many scientific payloads, including a camera to photograph the lunar surface and a mineral detector. The one-year mission went perfectly, said Chen Qiufa , director of the lunar mission and deputy minister of industry and information technology.

'We achieved all the engineering and scientific goals, and the first stage of our lunar mission was a complete success,' Mr Chen said. 'It is a historic moment.'

Sun Laiyan, chief of the China National Space Administration, said the spacecraft gathered a large amount of scientific data, which was released to various research institutes and universities yesterday.

The recipients included Xu Yangsheng, a professor of mechanical and automation engineering at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In an earlier interview with mainland magazine Outlook, the programme's chief scientist, Ouyang Ziyuan, said China, Japan and India had started a new moon rush but would eventually work together on lunar exploration.

Japan's Selene satellite, which lifted off a few months before China Chang'e I, still has another year to investigate the moon's gravity field.

India launched its Chandrayaan-1 on Saturday with a device designed to penetrate the moon's surface.

'Each country has its own strengths and weaknesses, and therefore we need to co-operate in order to get a more comprehensive understanding of the moon,' Professor Ouyang was quoted by the magazine as saying.

Although Selene and Chandrayaan both had cameras with sharper sensors, Chang'e claimed to have come out with the first best-quality image in the race.

Lu Zhangshen, director of the National Museum of China, said it was honoured to have the image because Chang'e had broken many records in aerospace history.

'The full moon image it produced is the finest and most complete moon image that has ever been released in the world,' Mr Lu said.

But a couple of leading remote-sensing experts on the mainland said the claim was an exaggeration.

'The US launched Clementine [satellite] in 1994 and obtained a full moon image from which you can make out something the size of a car. The camera on Chang'e could not even discover something the size of a soccer field,' one expert said.