2007: The Year of the Moon?

Is 2007 going to be the year of the moon?

In one respect, yes. A slate of robotic lunar explorers are set to head for our lone satellite in 2007 — though not from the United States.

Space.com reports: 

This year, China is set to launch its first lunar orbiter, followed by the summer sendoff of a mega-powerful mooncraft from Japan.

Both nations are kick-starting a barrage of robotic survey ships that shoot for the Moon, including lunar missions by India and the United States in 2008.

As global interest in the Moon grows, so too does the call for multi-nation collaboration in robotic and future human exploration of Earth’s neighboring natural satellite.

China is wrapping up fabrication next month of Chang’e I to be sent spaceward atop a Long March 3A rocket.

The lunar orbiter design—based on their Dongfanghong III satellite platform—is reportedly headed for an April departure from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province.

According to Chinese news services, once Chang’e I circles Earth for nearly 8 hours, the spacecraft will then depart on its journey, taking 114 hours to reach Moon orbit.

While precise specifications about onboard science gear is not widely known, Chinese space planners have explained in broader terms the goals of the mission. The craft will yield 3D images of the Moon’s surface, probe the distribution of 14 “usable elements” on the Moon, gauge the temperature of the Moon, estimate the depth of the lunar crust, as well as study the space environment between the Earth and the Moon. The lunar orbiter is designed to carry out a one-year mission.