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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Chang'e 3 undergoing thermal vacuum testing

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

09-05-2013 10:48 CDT

Topics: mission status, Chang'E program

A member of the forum has posted a large set of photos taken during Chang'E 3 thermal vacuum testing. They are all watermarked "China Space News" which is, as near as I can tell, a Chinese magazine -- I am hoping that the gigantic watermarks make it okay for me to post them. I'm posting them here in the spirit of asking forgiveness rather than permission, because I haven't been able to figure out a way to ask for permission. (EDIT: Here's where the photos were originally posted online.)

Thermal vacuum testing is one of the last major testing programs that a spacecraft has to endure before it is cleared for launch. It is a test that must be performed on the actual spacecraft that is headed for space -- not on an engineering model -- and it has to be done with the spacecraft essentially completely assembled. The whole ship is placed inside a testing chamber, and the chamber sealed and pumped down to as close to vacuum as is achievable. Then the chamber is run through temperature cycles to simulate the extreme heating and cooling that's experienced by a spacecraft exposed to alternating Sun and darkness in space.

Before I show you the photos, permit me an editorial comment: Oh my God, this thing is huge. In fact, it looks so huge that it makes me wonder whether it could serve as the base for a lander containing human astronauts. The rover is the rectangular box on top of the octagonal lander.

Chang'E 3 being lowered into chamber for thermal vacuum testing, May 2013

China Space News

Chang'E 3 being lowered into chamber for thermal vacuum testing, May 2013
Taken from a post by user "Galactic Penguin" at the forum

Here is a slightly closer view, in which you can see more detail on the rover, including its basket-like wheels.

Chang'E 3 being lowered into chamber for thermal vacuum testing, May 2013

China Space News

Chang'E 3 being lowered into chamber for thermal vacuum testing, May 2013

A report on says that the current plan is to launch the lander and rover in December. China is actually building two complete spacecraft. Assuming that Chang'E 3 lands successfully, it is expected that China will do with the backup spacecraft what they did following the success of Chang'E 1: they'll launch the backup as a follow-on mission, called Chang'E 4.

We haven't had a lunar soft landing since the Soviets' last Luna lander. This is going to be awesome. Here's an earlier post of mine with more information ont he plans for Chang'E 3.

To make them more convenient to browse, I've added all 20 or so thermal vacuum testing images to my Chang'E 3 Flickr album.

See other posts from May 2013


Or read more blog entries about: mission status, Chang'E program


Bob Ware: 05/09/2013 12:53 CDT

Hi Emily -- Thanks for the great update! I went back to your Jan '13 (linked above) and saw some scale there. As big as this is it appears to be to small, even for 1 pilot, to pull off a Lunar Landing. It appears to be designed only for automated flights. Their descent stage looks as is they have taken our Lunar Module design and their astronauted S/C (spacecraft) looks to be a Russian (USSR {CCCP} era) design. If this flight works, then yes they could most likely pull off an astronauted landing in the near future with the right size LV (Launch Vehicle).

Tretos: 05/09/2013 01:36 CDT

I designed similar size one with built-in rover but haven't got money for further developing.

George Ellis: 05/10/2013 08:16 CDT

Bob, it is indeed much smaller than the LM but not sooo much smaller (weight and height aside) than the LK: To me Emily has the right "suspicion". This lander looks like another step forward to a crewed Chinese landing in the next decade. Admittedly, any crewed lander needs to be at least a lot heavier and higher, which will require a larger Chinese LV. Now look at this:

Bob Ware: 05/10/2013 12:02 CDT

Hi George - Thanks for the better scale. I didn't mean to indicate EL was wrong. She is correct in her assessment. I'm sorry Emily if it came out that way. It looks as if the 3 of us basically agree that they are on their way to a successful Lunar Landing program. China is rapidly/steadily working their way to an astronauted landing. How many crew members? 3 like APOLLO? That is, will it be 1 up, two down in their final design? Time will tell.

George Ellis: 05/15/2013 04:45 CDT

Bob, at least I didn't take it that way :) The somewhat hidden point of my post was that the Apollo approach was a bit oversized if all you want is an astronaut down at and up from the lunar surface. Two examples are the massively over-designed landing legs and the crew size. The landing speed and terrain specs turned aout to be too pessimistic and the crew size of 3 wasn't really neccessary. Taken from “Apollo probably could have achieved its goal a little quicker by using a 2-man capsule for a direct flight. But all of the decisions made in the seven months after go-ahead proved basically correct ... The capsule was to have a crew of three, because it was thought the crew would have to monitor the spacecraft's systems at all times - therefore, three 8-hour duty shifts.” More on this here (again): and

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