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China's first MOON rover slated for 2013 launch

Roving robot will be part of third Chang'e mission

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

China's space boffins have hatched a plan to send their very first rover vehicle to the Moon in 2013, according to reports.

Shanghai Daily revealed that the country’s third Chang’e mission will deploy an orbiting vehicle with landing gear, allowing it to touch down on the lunar surface.

Ye Peijian, chief commander of Chang'e-3 at the China Academy of Space Technology, told the news outlet that the 100kg lunar rover is designed to last for three months and will include a navigation system to ensure it can avoid large craters as well as a telecommunications system for remote control.

Extendable solar panels will soak up the sunlight during the day and insulate the machine from the intense cold of the lunar night during which temperatures can dip below -150°C.

"It will be the most difficult part of the mission as the rover must avoid dropping into big holes on the Moon and climb over some small pits and rocks," Ye told reporters.

"The probe will take more scientific equipment than its predecessors mainly to detect, collect and analyse samples on the Moon.”

Boffins have earmarked five potential landing sites, with the Sinus Iridum, or Bay of Rainbows, being their first choice. The Chinese launched their first lunar orbiter, Chang'e-1, back in 2007, followed by the Chang'e-2 in 2010 with a mission to map the Moon and collect data.

The People’s Republic is also developing a new heavy-thrust carrier rocket that could propel its first manned mission to the Moon, so the Chang’e-3 mission is very much another reminder that in space, just like back home, there’s a new superpower in town.

It's still got some way to go to compete with the US, however, which has been exploring Mars for at least nine years. ®

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