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China's Moon Orbiter Mission Sees Successful Liftoff

Oct 24, 2014 12:14 PM EDT
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The third phase of China's lunar exploration program successfully lifted off on Thursday, marking the beginning of the country's first partly-privatized mission into the Moon's orbit.
(Photo : 4M via Xinhua)

The third phase of China's lunar exploration program successfully lifted off on Thursday, marking the beginning of the country's first partly-privatized mission into the Moon's orbit.

A Chinese Long March-3C rocket shook the ground at Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan Province on Thursday, achieving a successfully timed liftoff and seeing its payload on its way to the Moon.

The payload in question consists of a 31-pound spacecraft called Manfred Memorial Moon Mission, or 4M, which was manufactured by the Luxembourg-based company LuxSpace. This mission is China's first private contract aimed at space activity, and is meant as a memorial for LuxSpace founder Manfred Fuchs.

The 4M spacecraft itself is simple enough, continuously transmitting radio signals soon after launch. Amateur radio enthusiasts can work to decode these signals, which are various messages from the company. A contest has even been set up based around the reception and decoding of as many messages as possible during the eight day mission. (Scroll to read on...)

the 4M spacecraft
(Photo : 4M/LuxSpace) the 4M spacecraft

However, it's not all fun and games for this flight. Aside from the 4M, the Long March is also carrying the unmanned Chang'e-5-T1 spacecraft. The craft will reportedly whip around the Moon in a half-orbit before plummeting back to Earth, testing and validating re-entry technologies that will be used in the actual Chang'e-5 lunar mission in 2017.

During this future mission, a final version of the Chnag'e-5 T1 craft will collect samples and data from the Moon before returning to Earth.

According to Chinese news outlet Xinhua Net, the Long March rocket that lifted these two unique payloads out of Earth's atmosphere is a new generation of carrier rocket, boasting a 120-ton-thrust liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene engine.

The development of this kind of next-generation rocket - first debuted in China in 2012 - made China the second country to embrace LOX/kerosene high-pressure staged combustion. Russia was the first space-faring country to use this arguably most efficient concept.

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