China upgrades launcher rocket for its lunar mission
China has developed a modified model of the Long March-3B carrier rocket, which will launch the Chang'e-3 moon orbiter later this year, said Liang Xiaohong, deputy director of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
With its improved design, the modified carrier rocket's reliability has been increased and its carrying capacity has been boosted by 30 kg, Liang said.
The new orbiter's structure and size is considerably different than those of its predecessors, requiring some modifications, he said.
The new design will allow the Chang'e-3 to take advantage of more launch windows in comparison to the Chang'e-2, which successfully completed its Moon orbiting mission.
The Chang'e-3 will be able to take advantage of two daily launch windows for three to four consecutive days, Liang said.
The new model also features improved guidance technology and real-time video feeds that will allow monitoring of the rocket's key operations, Liang said.
The Chang'e-3 is scheduled to be launched in the later half of the year, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The upcoming version of China's carrier rocket Long March-7 will hopefully make its first launch in 2014, Liang added.
Researchers of the new variant have made key technological breakthroughs, including the production of a staged combustion cycle liquid oxygen and kerosene engine, which can produce a thrust of 180 kilonewtons, he said.
The Long March rockets series are regarded as key to China’s thrust to establish its dominance in space technology.
While stepping up its plans to land a rover on Moon's surface, China is also experimenting on how to reach and return from a mission to a space station, which they plan to develop.
The space station is set to rival Russia’s Mir Spacelab which is currently operated by Russia and US scientists. China’s space station is expected to be ready by 2020, the year Mir is set to be decommissioned.