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China synergy hint over space

Beijing, Dec. 2: China has expressed interest in space cooperation with India, after last night launching its first mission to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon.

Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-3 was launched into orbit aboard an enhanced, 56.4-metre-high Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest China.

The launch came about a day after India’s Mars orbiter was ejected out of its Earth orbit and into a 10-month journey towards the Red Planet.

Chinese space scientists are looking forward to cooperation with other countries, including close neighbour India, the state-run Xinhua news agency said in a report on the launch of China’s lunar probe.

Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China’s lunar programme, had earlier told the media that China’s space exploration did not aim at competition.

“We are open in our lunar programme, and cooperation from other countries is welcome. We hope to explore and use space for more resources to promote human development,” the Xinhua report quoted him as saying.

India had launched a lunar orbiter in 2008 and plans to send an unmanned robotic lander to the Moon within the next five years.

But the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will need to operationalise its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle before it can launch the lunar lander.

Although Isro had initially discussed the possibility of Russian collaboration for certain components of the lunar lander mission, it has now been declared a “fully indigenous mission”.

An Isro official said: “The spacecraft — the lander — and the rover will all be Indian.”

The Chang’e-3 lunar probe is expected to land on the moon in mid-December to become China’s first spacecraft to soft-land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

The probe, which is carrying a robotic rover to explore the moon besides a telescope, entered the Earth-Moon transfer orbit as scheduled, with a perigee of 200km and apogee of 380,000km, officials said.

“The probe has already entered the designated orbit,” said Zhang Zhenzhong, director of the launch centre.

“I now announce the launch was successful. We will strive for our space dream as part of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.”

The probe’s soft-landing is the most difficult task during the mission, said Wu Weiren, the lunar programme’s chief designer.