Spacecraft components are to be dispatched to the International Space Station in the wake of the arrival of the first sample of the new Chinese craft, which will carry out a test of its autonomous landing gear.
The Chang’e 3, or Chang’E-3, spacecraft is a three-stage, space-based vehicle built by China’s Chang’iang 3 Heavy Industries, which was launched in July.
The spacecraft will make the most of its low-Earth orbit (LEO) to deliver science and exploration samples to the space station.
China plans to send Chang’ēs first samples to space in December 2018, and China has said the mission will be carried out with the help of robotic equipment, which is a new concept.
The Chinese space agency has already completed the first test flight of its robot arm, and it has begun testing its robotic lander.
A Chinese official said earlier this month that the Chang’ e 3 will deliver a “high-quality” sample of its robotic arm and the landing system to the orbiting laboratory in 2020.
“This will be the first mission for Chang’ ē 3 to reach the space environment and will allow the science team to perform detailed investigations of the sample to determine its composition and morphology,” the official said.
The Chinese government has been making efforts to reduce the risk of contamination from the rovers on its lunar surface, with the first Chinese rover, the Jade Rabbit, being tested on its own moon in April.
The new craft, named Shenzhou-12, is expected to be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s far eastern province of Sichuan in October 2018.
Shenzhou-11, the second spacecraft, was launched from Sichu in July 2017, and the first flight of Shenzhou was scheduled for later this year.
The first stage of the Shenzhou spacecraft will be delivered from a pad in the Gobi Desert in Kazakhstan.
It will dock with the orbiting lab’s robotic arm, which the Changǎng 3 Heavy Industry intends to use to retrieve the landing gear from the craft.
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Originally published on Space.com.