China has launched its Chang’e 5 mission to collect and return samples from the moon marking the country’s first attempt to retrieve samples from a celestial body.
The mission was launched abroad a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern island province of Hainan at 4:30 a.m. (Beijing Time) on Nov. 24.
Chang’e 5 is one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history, as well as the world’s first moon-sample mission for more than 40 years.
The mission will help promote China’s science and technology development, and lay an important foundation for China’s future manned lunar landing and deep space exploration, said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Chang’e-5 mission is comprised of an an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, with a total takeoff mass of 8.2 tons. The mission is expected to accomplish unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, an unprecedented feat.
After it enters the lunar orbit, the lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination. While the orbiter-returner orbits about 200 km above the lunar surface, the lander-ascender will touch down on the northwest region of Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon in early December.
Within 48 hours, a robotic arm will be extended to scoop up rocks and regolith on the lunar surface, and a drill will bore into the ground. About 2 kg of samples are expected to be collected and sealed in a container in the spacecraft.
Then the ascender will take off, and dock with the orbiter-returner in orbit. After the samples are transferred to the returner, the ascender will separate from the orbiter-returner. The orbiter will then carry the returner back to Earth.
The 20-day mission will conclude when the returner reenters the earth’s atmosphere and land at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.