An engineer who is in a UK-China space engineering exchange program said on Saturday that China is expected to open the tendering for the country's first moon rover.
Ju Hehua, associate professor at the Beijing University of Technology, said the tendering would be arranged by December before the National Space Agency (NSA) works out an overall development plan for the proposed lunar rover.
The NSA plans to send a robot moon vehicle to carry out a rover mission by 2012 in the second phase of its Chang'e moon exploration project.
At least 13 research institutes are interested in bidding for the contract, which is estimated to exceed one billion yuan (US$147 million).
Sponsored by the United Kingdom's Royal Academy of Engineering, Prof. Ju is cooperating with researchers from the Surrey Space Center in the UK to develop a prototype rover.
Ju's team has already completed research on onboard guidance, navigation and control systems, which are vital to such a sophisticated automatic vehicle.
Ju predicted that the contract might not go to just one source. "It'll be a concerted work by various participants," Ju said, citing that some bidders have strong leads over others on some particular fields.
Ju said they could keep the cost of a current lunar rover under three million yuan and the more advanced next-generation robot would spend as much as 30 million yuan.
One challenge is to develop a vehicle that is able to move on the rough surface of the moon, the gravity of which is only one sixth of that on the earth, Ju said.
One other major task for a successful rover is to make sure it could cope with the sharp temperature difference, as much as 300 Celsius degrees, on the moon due to its thin atmosphere, the engineer said.
"We are also considering building super powerful batteries which help the rover survive during long nights on the moon," Ju said.
The UK-China exchange program not only works for the Chinese moon exploration mission, but also paves the way for future moon shots of the UK's own, such as the Moonraker lander mission.
The NSA was not available for comment on the possible bidding for building.
(Xinhua News Agency November 2, 2008)