mpicpp sends this report from Scientific American: A Chinese spacecraft service module has entered orbit around the moon, months after being used in the country's landmark test flight that sent a prototype sample-return capsule on a flight around the moon and returned it to Earth. The service module from China's circumlunar test flight arrived in orbit around the moon this week, according to Chinese state media reports. The spacecraft is currently flying in an eight-hour orbit that carries it within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the lunar surface at its closest point, and out to a range of 3,293 miles (5,300 km) at its highest point. Earlier reports noted that a camera system is onboard the service module, designed to assist in identifying future landing spots for the Chang'e 5 mission that will return lunar samples back to Earth in the 2017 time frame. Reader schwit1 adds a detailed report on Russia's next-gen space station module, writing, "The Russians have always understood that a space station is nothing more than a prototype of an interplanetary spaceship. They are therefore simply carrying through with the same engineering research they did on their earlier Salyut and Mir stations, developing a vessel that can keep humans alive on long trips to other planets."
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