China prepares for first lunar rover landing on the moon

China prepares for first lunar rover landing on the moon
The Chang'e-3 rocket carrying the Jade Rabbit rover blasts off, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest province of Sichuan on December 2, 2013. China launched its first moon rover mission, state TV showed, the latest step in an ambitious space programme seen as a symbol of its rising global stature.

BEIJING - China will attempt to land a probe carrying the country's first lunar rover on the moon Saturday in a major breakthrough for its ambitious space programme.

The spacecraft is expected to make touchdown at about 9pm (1300 GMT), the mission's official microblogging page said, 12 days after Chang'e-3 blasted off on a Long March-3B carrier rocket.

China is aiming to become the third country to carry out a rover mission, following the United States and former Soviet Union, which also made the last soft landing on the moon 37 years ago.

"At about 9pm, Chang'e-3's probe will carry out a soft landing on the moon," the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said in an online post written for the official Chang'e-3 page on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter.

State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), who had earlier said on its microblog the landing was scheduled for 9.40pm, had posted a later message saying it would be at 9pm.

The probe is expected to touch down on an ancient 400-kilometre (250-mile) wide plain known in Latin as Sinus Iridum, or The Bay of Rainbows.

The landing - which is expected to be carried out independently by the spacecraft - was described as the "most difficult" part of the mission by CAS in an earlier post on Chang'e-3's Weibo page.

The landing craft uses sensors and 3D imaging to identify a flat surface. Thrusters are deployed 100 metres (330 feet) from the lunar surface to gently guide the craft into position.

The probe, which is also fitted with shock absorbers in the legs to cushion the impact of the landing, will "free-fall" for the crucial final few metres of descent.

"Chang'e-3 is completely relying on auto-control for descent, range and velocity measurements, finding the proper landing point, and free-falling," a post on Chang'e-3's Weibo page said.

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