Engineers unveil China moon rover

A lunar rover proposal from the Shanghai Spaceflight Agency and others. Credits: China Daily

BBC reports that Chinese scientists have shown off a prototype Moon rover that could lead to the country's first unmanned mission to the lunar surface in 2012. The 1.5m (5ft) high, 200kg (440lbs) rover should transmit video in real time, dig into and analyse soil, and produce 3D images of the lunar surface.

Engineers have unveiled a prototype at the Shanghai institute where work on the six-wheeled vehicle is underway. Rival rovers are being developed at institutes in Beijing and elsewhere. It is not clear when the successful candidate will be selected.

Engineers at the Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute have created a specialised laboratory that mimics the lunar surface for their rover. Unlike the solar-rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used by the US space agency's (Nasa) Mars rovers, the Chinese model will eventually run on a radioisotope thermoelectric generator. Such devices convert heat from a radioactive source into electricity.

"We want to make it better than the early US and Russian rovers," Luo Jian, director of the institute, was quoted as saying.

With an average speed of 100m (328ft) per hour, it can negotiate inclines and has automatic sensors to prevent it from crashing into other objects, China Daily reported.

China is working on a three-stage plan for exploration of the Earth's Moon, which includes sending a lunar orbiter called Chang'e-1 some time this year. This will be followed by a soft landing in 2012 and the return of lunar samples in another five years.

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