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China set to launch lunar rover on Monday

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The Chinese space agency is set to launch Chang'e-3 its lunar rover on Monday, December 2 at 1.30 a.m. local time.

The Chang'e-3 lunar rover will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center and if successful, it will be the first probe from any country to land on the Moon in 37 years.

The probe is anticipated to land on the Moon's surface on December 14 and will be the first probe since USSR's Luna 24 probe in 1976 to land on the lunar surface.

"We are proud that the expertise of our ground station and flight dynamics teams and the sophisticated technologies of our worldwide Estrack network can assist China to deliver a scientifically important lander and rover to the Moon," says European Space Agency's (ESA) Thomas Reiter in a press release. "Whether for human or robotic missions, international cooperation like this is necessary for the future exploration of planets, moons and asteroids, benefitting everyone."

After the lunar probe takes off, ESA's station in Kourou, French Guinea, will begin to receive signals from the mission, as well as upload commands "on behalf of the Chinese control center."

The Chang'e-3 probe has two parts namely a lander dubbed Yutu (or Jade Rabbit) which is a robotic rover. The rover was named after an online poll was conducted for names. Yutu is apparently the name of the Chang'e (Chinese moon goddess) pet rabbit.

Yutu will be able to drive by itself when surveying the Moon's surface as it is an autonomous rover. Moreover, scientists will also be able to control Yutu from Earth.

Yutu will not only survey the Moon's geological structure and substances, but also look for natural resources. To help Chang'e-3 land faster it is equipped with fast-response sensors that can analyze the environment and its motion.

"After the lander and rover are on the surface, we will use our 35 m-diameter deep-space antennas at Cebreros, Spain, and New Norcia, Australia, to provide 'delta-DOR' location measurement," says Erik Soerensen, responsible for external mission tracking support at ESOC. "Using this delta-DOR technique, you can compute locations with extreme accuracy, which will help our Chinese colleagues to determine the precise location of the lander."

Yutu is expected to be active for three months. If China's Chang'e-3 mission is successful, then the country will start its next phase of lunar operations. China is expected to put a person on Moon in 2005.

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