UK space scientists look set to join with China in a Moon landing. They have signed an agreement to investigate the possibility of flying British experiments aboard an unmanned lunar lander on the Chang’e II mission in 2012.
The module will carry a rover that could now run about on the Moon’s surface using instruments designed for the UK’s ill-fated Beagle 2 probe to Mars.
Professor John Zarnecki, head of planetary science at the Open University, is just back from talks in Shanghai on the joint mission and spoke exclusively to Skymania News about his trip.
A prototype of a 5ft high Chinese rover, one of the contenders for the Chang’e II mision, was unveiled there this week. Professor Zarnecki, pictured above, told me: “What we are talking to them about is providing some of the instruments such as a robot arm and some of the instruments.
“They could include some of the analytical instruments that were on the Beagle’s PAW, to measure basic things like the density of the surface, the hardness and heatflow, which is a pretty basic measurement but we only know it roughly.” (PAW was the delightful acronym for Beagle 2’s Payload Adjustable Workbench).
Professor Zarnecki said that Beagle 2’s Professor Colin Pillinger would be keen to provide instruments to check the lunar rocks. He added: “The Chinese are smart. They admit they are new to space science and my gut feeling is that they want to do this pretty quickly. Although they could develop all these things themselves they realise that by working collaboratively they could speed things up.”
Professor Zarnecki said he had signed agreements to carry on working with China and they would be sending students, scientists and engineers to visit UK space centres at Oxford, Milton Keynes and Leicester. He planned to return to China to spend some time at one of their space universities such as the Shanghai Academy of Astronautics and Spaceflight.
Professor Zarnecki said: “My dream is that come 2012, which is the planned landing date, we will have a Chinese rover trundling about on the surface of the Moon with UK instruments on it.”
The professor was chief scientist in the team that successfully landed a probe on Saturn’s biggest moon Titan in 2005.
Photo: Open University.