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Moon Probe Eyes Private Funding

China will open part of the country's second-stage moon mission projects for public tender, to attract competent institutions and enterprises to take part in the moon program, a spokesman for the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said yesterday.

"They could include scientific research organs, universities and also private companies," Li Guoping told a press conference in Beijing.

China successfully sent its first lunar probe into the final working orbit yesterday, where it will stay for one year.

"With the expansion of China's space explorations, we'd like to encourage private enterprises to join the space technology development and attract public funds for aerospace-related research, manufacture and trade," Li said.

"For sure, private companies should be qualified, especially in technological and managerial capabilities, in order to participate in the space technology development."

The launch of the orbiter kicks off the first step of China's three-stage moon mission, which will lead to a moon landing and launch of a moon rover around 2012.

In the third phase, another rover will land on the moon and return to earth with lunar soil and stone samples for scientific research around 2017.

Lunar orbiter Chang'e 1 will start its probe of the moon late this month when all the instruments aboard shall be put into operation.

"We expect the Chang'e 1 to send back the first lot of data and activate all its scientific instruments in late November," Li said.

"The ground system then will be able to process these data and produce the first moon picture."

However, the pictures will not show US astronauts' footprints on the moon due to insufficient resolution, according to Sun Huixian, deputy chief designer of the satellite system.

"The camera's resolution will decide the size of the things that can be shown in the pictures by the probe," he said. "If we want to see clearly from the picture a footprint with a length of 30cm and a width of 10cm, the camera must have a centimeter-level resolution. So far, cameras carried by lunar probes have yet to reach such a resolution."

Chang'e 1, launched on October 24 in the Xichang launch center in southwest Sichuan Province, entered its final working orbit at 8:34 AM yesterday, after eight orbital maneuvers on its 1,800,000-kilometer trip to the moon.

(Xinhua News Agency November 8, 2007)

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