China is quickly planning its next lunar mission right after the success of Chang’e 3. The country announced its plans for another lunar mission by 2017, and its space program has some lofty goals, including manned missions, a space station and deep space exploration. For the latter, China admits it needs help and stated its desire to build a monitoring station abroad for such missions.
Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, discussed the need for a deep space monitoring station at a news conference. “It is imperative to build a deep space monitoring station abroad in order to make up for blind measurements and realize round-the-clock monitoring for future deep space missions,” Jianliang said, according to state-run Xinhua News Agency.
China has two operating stations within its borders, one located in Kashgar and another in Jiamusi. The monitoring stations have been used to track Chang’e 2, which launched in 2010 and is now 65 million kilometers away from Earth, Xinhua reports.
It's unclear if China will seek to establish a monitoring station in the near future, but it could partner with the European Space Agency. As part of the Chang’e 3 mission, ESA’s Estrack network, featuring 10 tracking stations, has been supporting China’s efforts and the data collected by ESA to track the lander and determine its exact location in the Bay of Rainbows.
The Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, rover has begun its exploration of the moon, following the successful soft landing on Dec. 14. With the moon landing, China has notched another successful mission for its space program, but there's plenty left to do for the rapidly developing space power.
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As China continues to travel deeper into space and begins to develop more-complex missions, it'll need infrastructure in place to handle the necessary communication system for such tasks -- be it with orbiting satellites, rovers on Mars or for deep space exploration.
Other agencies have developed specialized communication systems capable of transmitting messages to even the furthest reaches of space. NASA has several such systems in place as part of its Space Communications Program, including the Deep Space Network, Space Network and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. The Deep Space Network is able to keep in contact with Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, with the former already reaching interstellar space -- not too far behind its twin.
Both satellites have been operational since 1977, and Voyager 1 is the first manmade object to travel into interstellar space, and it's more than 19 billion kilometers, or 12 billion miles, from the sun.