A CHINESE nuclear battery will power the country's first moon rover after it lands on the lunar surface next year on board Chang'e-3, China's third lunar probe, according to the chief scientist of China's lunar project.

The battery, using plutonium-238, will be able to power the 100-kilogram vehicle for more than 30 years, Ouyang Ziyuan said over the weekend.

"The nuclear power system will make China the third country apart from the United States and Russia to be able to apply nuclear technology to space exploration," Ouyang said.

The rover will patrol the surface for at least three months with the vehicle being controlled by scientists on Earth, Ye Peijian, chief commander of the Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 missions has said.

Ouyang said the rover would be powered by the sun during daytime and by nuclear power during the night.

A lunar night lasts for 14 days with temperatures reaching below minus 100 degrees Celsius. The battery will be the only source of energy during that time and will prevent the equipment freezing, he said.

An expandable solar panel will absorb the sun's energy during the day.

As plutonium-238 decays to increase its temperature to around 600 degrees Celsius, the battery system will turn the heat into electricity, said Li Guoxin, a researcher with the Shanghai Space Energy Research Center.

The Chang'e-3 is expected to be launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest Sichuan Province.

"The probe will take more scientific equipment than its predecessors mainly to detect, collect and analyze samples on the moon," Ye said.

The Chang'e-3 will also observe space from the lunar surface as the lack of atmosphere allows better viewing than from Earth.

"The most difficult part of the mission is that the rover must avoid dropping into big holes on the moon and climb over some small pits and rocks," Ye said.

Ouyang said the rover and the Chang'e-3 would stay on the moon until the Chang'e-5 probe arrived to take samples and the rover back to the Earth.

He said China was currently working on the Chang'e-5 as well as a new Long March-5 rocket to carry the probe.


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