I admit… I wasn’t paying the most careful of attention and all of a sudden, China is sending another mission to the Moon! I wasn’t the only one caught off guard, as much of their space mission progress is not often available to Western media outlets. But you can count on our friend Emily Lakdawalla to be on the case over at the Planetary Society blog. In fact, it was her tweeting about the launch that got my attention.
This is an engineering mission, the Chang’e 5 Test Vehicle, to the Moon and back in preparation for Chang’e 5, a sample return mission planned for 2017. There’s also a mini-satellite on board that might be detectable by radio enthusiasts, the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. That’s one heck of a memorial if you ask me. The satellite is considered the first privately funded Moon mission.
Lots of technical information can be found at Spaceflight101, and your fellow space geeks are following the mission at CosmoQuest/BAUT, Unmanned Spaceflight, and NASA Spaceflight Forums.