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China lunar probe adjusts orbit to shun moon eclipse
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19:25, January 29, 2008

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· China's Lunar Exploration Program
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China's first lunar probing satellite, Chang'e-1, adjusted its working orbit on Sunday night to avoid a power shortage during an upcoming moon eclipse, Xinhua learnt Tuesday.

The satellite's engine was ignited at 11:50:48 p.m. on Sunday. It lifted Chang'e-1, at an altitude of 200 kilometers above the moon's surface, up to an orbit nearly two km higher in more than 60 seconds, the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) said.

A moon eclipse on Feb. 21 will cut off the sunlight supply for Chang'e-1 for three to four hours. The adjustment, however, will shorten the time period to two hours, ensuring enough solar power for the orbiter, said Zhu Mincai, BACC director.

Launched via a Long March rocket on Oct. 24 from southwest China, Chang'e-1 is powered mainly by solar power panels. Its batteries can provide electricity only for a short period.

The eclipse will coincide with this year's traditional Chinese Lantern Festival when the moon and the orbiter will be wholly shadowed by the Earth, Zhu said.

Only a few facilities will be temporarily switched off during the eclipse. This won't strongly affect the satellite's work in general, said BACC scientist Liu Congjun.

"We made the adjustment more than 20 days ahead of the eclipse so as to save fuel and avoid negative effects by too big orbital changes on scientific exploration," said Tang Geshi, a BACC official in charge of orbital control.

The satellite will perform an orbital adjustment again when another eclipse occurs in August, Liu said.

He added all facilities on Chang'e-1 were working well to carryout the lunar probing jobs as planned.

The 2,350-kilogram satellite carrying eight probing facilities, aims to make a three-dimensional survey of the moon's surface. It will also analyze the abundance and distribution of elements on the lunar surface, investigate the characteristics of lunar regolith and the powdery soil layer on the surface, as well as to explore the circumstance between the Earth and the moon.

The launch of the orbiter kicks off the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a rover vehicle around 2012. In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to Earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research at around 2017.

Source: Xinhua

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