China Just Put a Service Module in Moon Orbit
moon close up

It can be easy to overlook other countries’ contributions to space. NASA, SpaceX or the ESA usually garner all the headlines, but other countries are also working in the final frontier.

The service module for China’s unmanned test lunar orbiter has entered orbit around the moon. Three braking maneuvers were initiated to get the module in a suitable orbit.

“After the circular flight stabilizes, the module will travel along the current orbit at an altitude of 200 km above the moon’s surface for tests to validate key technologies for the next lunar probe mission, Chang’e-5,” Zhao Wenbo, Vice Director of China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), told Xinhua.

The lunar orbiter launched back on October 24. The orbiter returned to Earth in November, but the service module continued its trek to the moon.

Ground controllers say the module is working great and has plenty of power to gather data.

What’s next for the service module? It’s gathering tons of data that will be used in a 2017 mission – Chang’e 5. China will attempt a soft landing on the moon and bring lunar samples back to Earth.

If China succeeds with the 2017 mission, they will join some elite company. Only the U.S. and Russia have successfully executed soft landings on the moon.

Other countries are in the planning stages of lunar missions. Russia’s Luna-Glob 1 plans to head to the moon in 2018. India will attempt a soft landing with the Chandrayaan-2. A proposed launch date has been set for 2017.

Manned missions back to the moon have been proposed by NASA. Early plans are for a manned test of the Orion spacecraft in Lunar orbit sometime between 2019 and 2021.

Image credit: NASA

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