Chinese moon lander may cause problems for NASA mission

China has a robotic moon lander that will land on the surface of the moon next month. Chinese scientists are in the final stages of preparing the Chang'e 3 lander to launch. The lander will lift off atop a Chinese Long March 3B rocket that is set for launch in early December.

The Chinese lander will orbit the moon first and then send the lander down to a specific site chosen on the surface of the moon. Once the lander touches down, a solar powered lunar rover will begin rolling around the moon. The Chinese mission has a chance of disrupting a mission that NASA has going on now with the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer known as LADEE.

NASA fears that the arrival of the Chinese mission could affect the science goals of LADEE.

Jeff Plescia, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md said:

The arrival of the Chang'e 3 spacecraft into lunar orbit and then its descent to the surface will result in a significant contamination of the lunar exosphere by the propellant.

After the arrival and landing of the Chang'e 3 spacecraft, LADEE will be sampling the lunar atmosphere including the propellant used by the Chinese craft. However, the Chinese spacecraft will also present an opportunity for NASA.

Plescia said:

Propellant will be released at a relatively high altitude from burns as the Chang'e spacecraft enters lunar orbit and then at a range of altitudes as the spacecraft descends to the surface. LADEE will be able to observe how the propellant becomes distributed into the lunar exosphere and then how it is later removed.

NASA says that the Chinese emission could severely compromise the LADEE mission. LADEE is supposed to establish a baseline evaluation of the moon exosphere and that baseline may not be complete before the arrival of the Chinese mission. NASA hopes that cooperation between it and China will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both missions.