The Chinese Chang’e 2 spacecraft has been used in a follow-up mission to take close up images of the near Earth object asteroid, Toutalis (4179) at an altitude of only 3.2km. The flyby took place at 0830 GMT on 13 December 2012.
Asteroid Toutatis as taken by Chang’e 2. Courtesy: CNSA
Chang’e 2 was originally launched on 1 October 2010 and was used to make close up images of the lunar surface, have entered lunar orbit five days later. Having completed its main mission six months later, and with plenty of fuel left, Chinese scientists decided to extend the Chang’e 2 mission, initially by flying it to the Lagrangian L2 position. The spacecraft entered into a halo orbit around this Earth-Sun gravitational balance point in August 2011. Having achieved this, it was decided to move the spacecraft out of orbit around L2 in April and use it to try to image the passing asteroid Toutalis which it achieved on 13 December. This has now been successfully done.
Comment by David Todd: Congratulations to the Chinese space programme. Using the same Chang’e 2 spacecraft for all these missions is a fine achievement and has shown China’s technical prowess as well as its opportunistic adaptability and economic wisdom. It is a lesson that some Western space programmes should learn.