BEIJING, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- China's second moon orbiter, the Chang'e-2, has arrived in outer space about 1.5 million km away from Earth and is now orbiting the second Lagrange Point (L2), where gravity from the sun and Earth balances the orbital motion of a satellite, Chinese scientists said Tuesday.
Chang'e-2 entered L2's orbit at 11:27 p.m. last Thursday after spending 77 days traveling away from its previous orbital path around the moon, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).
The SASTIND said that China is now the world's third country or organization to successfully put a spacecraft into orbit around L2, after the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the United States.
The Chang'e-2 orbiter will carry out exploration activities around L2 in the coming year, SASTIND said.
There are five so-called "Lagrange Points" about 1.5 million km way from the Earth in the exact opposite direction from the sun. Putting a spacecraft at any of these points allows it to stay in a fixed position relative to the Earth and sun with a minimal amount of energy needed for course correction.
The orbiter completed all of its assigned tasks after blasting off on Oct. 1, 2010, according to the SASTIND. Although the orbiter was only supposed to remain in space for six months, the SASTIND decided to assign additional tasks to it, as it still had fuel in its reserve tanks.
Traveling into outer space from the moon's orbit was one of the orbiter's most important missions, according to the SASTIND.
Before arriving at its current position in outer space, the Chang'e-2 took photos of the northern and southern poles of the moon. It then descended to a lower orbit, approximately 15 km away from the moon's surface, where it captured high-resolution images of the Sinus Iridum, or "Bay of Rainbows," an area where future moon probes may land.
The SASTIND is reportedly planning to launch measure and control stations into outer space by the end of the second half of next year. The Chang'e-2 will be used to test the two stations' functionality at that time.
China's ambitious three-stage moon mission will include a moon landing, as well as the launch of a moon rover during the second stage, which is scheduled to take place in 2012. During 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.
China does not currently have a timetable in place for a manned moon landing. It launched its first lunar probe, the Chang'e-1, in October 2007.
In 2003, China became the third country after Russia and the United States to send a human into space. Two more manned space missions followed, the most recent of which took place in 2008.0 The Chang'e probes are named after the Chinese legendary goddess of the moon.
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