Long March 3B launches Chang’e 3

After watching the Trans-Mars Injection till 2 in the morning, I really wanted to sleep early. However, not having watched a single Chinese launch and having access to CCTV News channel changed my mind and made me endure another night of half-sleep. I am so happy to have made that decision.

As a payload, Chang’e 3 is a rough equivalent to our own Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft. The launch vehicle, China’s Long March 3B is slightly more powerful than the under-development GSLV Mk-III that India has. The Long March 3B can loft a 5 ton payload to the GTO compared to the 4 ton capability of the MK-III.

I switched on the TV about half an hour into the launch as they were fuelling the cryogenic third stage of the rocket. The four tower flashlight were focused on the launch vehicle. Since I had the TV on mute (others in my house had gone to sleep) the ignition and lift off caught me unawares.

The next surprise was the on-board cameras that were reminiscent of the space shuttle launches. As the launch vehicle cleared the launch pad and the vehicle slowly moved out of the visible range, the transmission quickly switched to the on board camera view. An animation along side showed the status. The four strap-ons separated followed by the separation of the first stage. The camera then switched to show the payload, Chang’e 3 in what appeared to be gold foil similar to what I’ve seen on Indian spacecrafts. As the second stage separated the camera switched to a view just above the twin nozzled third stage of the vehicle. An animation explained the position of the spacecraft and how the three ships in the Pacific were in constant communication with the spacecraft. It even showed the third stage lit up when the engines were burning and off when the stage was coasting in space. The view suddenly changed to the one on top of the third stage and under the Chang’e 3.

What came next were stunning visuals of the Earth’s horizon on the left and just as beautifully the spacecraft separated. It was accompanied with a lot of dust particles that rained like confetti celebrating the separation. We also saw stunning visuals of the attitude control thrusts.

The sunlight reflected off the spacecrafts gold foil making it look like an extremely bright object. Slowly the camera panned towards the Earth. It seems the stage was moved 90 degrees so that the top of the third stage pointed Earth. As the visual of Earth lingered strangely CCTV News went off air for me. I took that as a signal for me to head off to bed.

On Twitter I heard news of the solar panel deployment and the announcement of the successful completion of the Long March 3B’s launch campaign. Placed on a direct trajectory to the Moon, the orbiter and lander and rover will reach the Moon on December 6 and the lander will make a soft landing on the Sinius Iridium on December 14.

Congratulations, China and Godspeed! Chang’e 3!!

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