China's next attempt at lunar exploration, its rover mission Chang'e-2, could use UK instruments if ongoing Sino-British academic contacts develop into government-approved collaboration.

Led by the UK's University of Leicester, contact between the two countries' academic institutions saw early discussions of possible co-operation two years ago, with delegations meeting to discuss space technology.

Chang'e-2 will follow the current Chinese orbiter, Chang'e-1, which is surveying the Moon and sending back pictures of its surface and other data. China's plans for robotic lunar exploration call for a soft landing of a rover from 2009 followed by a sample return mission in the next decade.

The UK scientists have now submitted a proposal to the UK government's Science and Technology Facilities Council to gain funding for work that could lead to the country's involvement. The UK instruments could be based on technology developed for the ill-fated Beagle 2 Mars lander, which lost contact with Earth as it entered the Martian atmosphere on 25 December 2003.

"On a visit to Shanghai we were shown a prototype design of the [Chinese lunar] rover. It looked more like NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The Chinese could do it all themselves but we would like to participate," says the UK's Open University's Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research director John Zarnecki.

Flight visited the Chinese government's state-owned space programme prime contractor, the China Academy of Space Technology, in May and its prototype lunar rover on show was similar to Russian designs. Zarnecki says he thought there were several designs under consideration.

Source: Flight International