FOR THE POLYTECHNIC University's faculty of construction and land use (FCLU), space really is the final frontier. And if all goes to schedule, mapping experts from the faculty will take a giant step towards better understanding the moon sometime next month as part of China's lunar programme. A team from the FCLU's department of land surveying and geo-informatics (LSGI) is already reviewing existing technology and soon, following the launch of a Chinese spacecraft, six staff members and several researchers should start receiving data from an orbiter 200km above the moon. LSGI department head Chen Yong-qi said the aim of the project was to develop systems that could better map Earth's only natural satellite. 'Our task is to analyse the data collected and develop the methodologies for better mapping the lunar surface,' Professor Chen said. 'Since autumn, we have been reviewing existing data sources and the data available.' This mission is the first of a three-phase Chinese programme named Chang'e, after a legend about a fairy that visits the moon. First a lunar orbiter is to be launched, followed by a lander, and then finally a sample return craft. The craft will undertake four main tasks, including 3D topographic mapping, assessing the distribution of 14 major mineral/material elements, measuring the thickness of the soil, and studying the environment in Earth-moon space. 'Since 1959, more than 70 lunar exploration activities have taken place, mainly conducted by the United States and the former Soviet Union,' Professor Chen said. 'China's lunar exploration programme, although following this previous research, aims at a higher level.' He said while his team had just started lunar mapping research, they were well qualified for this task and had the ability to tackle a wide range of different complex projects. 'LSGI staff have studied the gravity field of Mars from the Radio Tracking Mars Observer, and the gravity field of the moon from the lunar satellite-to-satellite tracking mission,' Professor Chen said. 'What is difficult is overcoming the problems of the few control points available, understanding the implications of the lunar gravity field, and overcoming the problems of the highly reflective surface.' When the data from the orbiter becomes available it will be analysed by the LSGI team to evaluate the performance of onboard sensors, and topographic maps of parts of the moon's surface will then be produced.