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Chang'e 3 departs for the Moon, with amazing images and video

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

02-12-2013 12:18 CST

Topics: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, spacecraft, Chang'E program, rockets, animation

Last week was a Thanksgiving week to remember, with comet ISON's perihelion passage, the departure of Mars Orbiter Mission, and finally, on Sunday, China's successful launch of what is hoped to be the first lunar lander in 37 years. My apologies to being a little late to this post -- there was just too much space to cover!

Chang'e 3 launches toward the Moon


Chang'e 3 launches toward the Moon
At 1:30 a.m. on December 2 local time at the Xichuan launch site in China, a Long March 3B rocket lifted off with Chang'e 2 for the Moon.

I congratulate China on the flawless launch of Chang'e 3 and Yutu for the Moon! Launch took place December 1 at 17:30 UTC. The Long March rocket practically leapt off the pad, a thrilling event to watch from a camera mounted to the tower, showing the flaming rocket rising past. The great camera work continued with a view from the second stage that showed the separation of the four strap-on rockets and then the first stage. Another camera watched as the third stage fired, then shut down for a brief coast before firing again to place Chang'e 3 on a direct lunar transfer trajectory. And then, finally, an amazing view with a crescent Earth in the background as the lander separated from the third stage and went on its way. Little puffs of its attitude control jets trimmed its course. And then it passed into sunlight, producing a brilliant bloom of light on the camera as it left for good. Finally, the third stage was deliberately rotated in order to view the sunlit Earth.

Chang'e 3 on its way to the Moon


Chang'e 3 on its way to the Moon
Just after separation from its third stage rocket on December 1, 2013, the Chang'e 3 lander fires attitude adjustment rockets to trim its course toward the Moon, with a sunrise Earth in the background.

What's next for Chang'e 3? According to, Chang'e 3 has already successfully performed one mid-course correction, and is on schedule for lunar orbit insertion around 9:30 UT on December 6. Landing is expected on December 14 between 8:00 and noon UT. The rover is planned to deploy one day later.

According to this Xinhua article, Chang'e 3 will enter a 100-kilometer circular orbit around the Moon. It will orbit there for four days and then drop its apoapsis to a mere 15 kilometers above the lunar surface. It will stay in that orbit for four days before landing. Here's a terrific overview of the plans for Chang'e 3's science mission, from Spaceflight 101. Also, here's a close-up look at Sinus Iridum, where the landing will take place, from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

My congratulations to China for a job well done, both on the launch and on sharing the excitement of the launch with the world. I can't wait to see Yutu rolling onto the lunar surface.

Here is a video of the highlights of the launch:


Chang'e 3 launch highlights and lander separation (video)
Chang'e 3 launched toward the Moon on December 1, 2013. Less than an hour after launch, the Chang'e 3 lander separated from its third stage and departed for the Moon, with the crescent Earth as a backdrop. A few seconds in to the video, a sun glint off the spacecraft produces a blinding flare to the camera. Afterward, the third stage was deliberately rolled to capture Earth in its camera field of view.

Here is the complete video, from launch to separation. It's unfortunate that the English-language announcers didn't have a better script available to tell them what was happening at different moments, but I'm grateful there was an English-language broadcast at all.

See other posts from December 2013


Or read more blog entries about: pretty pictures, pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, spacecraft, Chang'E program, rockets, animation


tom6740: 12/02/2013 04:02 CST

Interesting news article mentioning future CNSA missions: Chang'e 5 - 2018 Mars orbiter+rover - 2018 Multi-asteroid orbiter+lander - 2017 (proposed) Jovian orbiter - 2026 (proposed)

Dean Male: 12/02/2013 07:12 CST

Very impressive footage! Great PR outreach: did anyone ever see NASA do foreign-language launch broadcasts?! These guys really know what they're doing & are proud to share it (and justifiably so!). I just hope they get to show a little Curiosity-landing 'enthusiasm' at the appropriate time....! Dean

Emily Lakdawalla: 12/02/2013 08:26 CST

Dean, I don't know how much NASA does in foreign languages but they did a full-on televised press briefing in Spanish on MAVEN before that mission launched.

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