Big Island Company to Use Chinese Moon Lander for Space Research

A cooperative deal has been inked between a U.S. group and China to use that country’s moon lander to conduct astronomical imaging from the lunar surface.

The International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) of Kamuela, Hawaii has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Beijing-based National Astronomical Observatories (NAOC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A signing ceremony took place in Kamuela on Sept. 4.

Space engineers have started work on China’s lunar rover, one aspect of a multi-pronged Moon exploration program.
CREDIT: Shanghai Aerospace System Engineering Institute

The deal is the first such U.S.-China collaboration centered on using China’s Chang’e-3 moon lander now being readied for launch next year.

Dedicated to astronomical research and public education, China’s NAOC hosts the Lunar and Planetary Research Center and is the institute responsible for the ultraviolet lunar telescope to be carried onboard the Chang’e-3 lander. That instrument will be operated by the China National Space Administration’s Chinese Lunar Exploration Program. [Gallery: China’s Moon Photos by Chang’e 2 Lunar Probe]

The Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lunar orbiters were launched by China in 2007 and 2010, respectively. The most recent orbiter cranked out a detailed map of the moon’s surface, including the landing zone picked for the rover-carrying Chang’e 3 lander — Sinus Iridium (Bay of Rainbows).

Natural progression

“I’ve been visiting China observatories and astronomy facilities like NAOC for about 15 years, so this memorandum of understanding has been a natural progression,” Steve Durst, ILOA founding director, told

Steve Durst, founding director of ILOA and Jun Yan, Director General of China’s NAOC, shake hands after signing agreement on September 4 to collaborate on using future moon landers to carry out science duties from the lunar surface

This science collaboration will be part of a mission that will conduct the first soft controlled landing of any spacecraft on the moon in almost 40 years, Durst said in a press statement. It will be the first ever program to conduct astronomical imaging from the moon’s landscape, he said.

The ILOA co-sponsors with its Space Age Publishing Company affiliate a number of educational initiatives, international forums to provide increased global awareness of space science, exploration and enterprise, Durst said.

Forums are held in Silicon Valley, Canada, China, India, Japan, Europe, Africa, Hawaii, Kansas and New York. Current plans, Durst said, are for expansion to South America, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Antarctica through 2014.

“We’re optimistic that resulting Space Age USA-People’s Republic of China -international interaction should be very productive for all,” Durst said. The deal struck involved quite an effort, he said, calling it “hopefully quite significant and historic.”