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Chinese spacecraft departs lunar orbit

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BEIJING (BNS): Chinese lunar probe, Chang'e-2, has departed from the Moon’s orbit after completing its mission and set out on a journey towards outer space.

The spacecraft, which completed six months in the lunar orbit in April this year and carried out several missions, ceased orbiting the Moon on Thursday afternoon.

Mission controllers performed maneuvers so as to make Chang'e-2 to leave the circular orbit pattern it had been in previously and enter into an elliptical pattern, China Daily reported.

The next destination for the spacecraft is the 2nd Lagrangian point in outer space which could provide valuable information for future deep space exploration.

“The lunar satellite is to travel 1.5 million kilometers away from the Earth’s surface in at least 85 days, going to what is called a Lagrangian point,” Wang Xiaolei, deputy designer of the Chang'e-2 satellite, was quoted as saying in the news report.

The Lagrangian points are locations in space that are relatively unaffected by gravitational forces. There are five such points in the Sun-Earth system and the Chang'e-2 will travel to one of those nearest to Earth.

Wang said the point (marked as L2 in the chart) lies in the Earth’s shadow and is exposed to less Sun radiation than other Lagrangian points.

That makes it an ideal place for scientists to put space telescopes in when they want to observe the universe, he said.

However, driving a spacecraft straight out of the Moon’s orbit into outer space is a challenging task and Chinese scientists would achieve a breakthrough if they accomplish the mission successfully.

The new mission therefore places great pressure on scientists to accurately calculate the point at which the Chang'e-2 must leave its orbit around the moon and make off for the Lagrangian point, experts said.

China had launched Chang'e-2, its second lunar probe, on October 1, 2010. The main mission of the spacecraft was to test key technology related to the “soft-landing” of its successor Chang'e-3 lunar landing mission planned for 2013.

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