China launches unmanned lunar spacecraft

Rodiano Bonacci
Ноября 24, 2020

This is the second time the Long March-5 carrier heavy-load vehicle, now China's largest launch vehicle, will be put into practical use. The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-5 rocket at 4.30 am (Beijing Time).

Chang'e 5 - named for the Chinese moon goddess - is the country's boldest lunar mission yet.

China was late to the space race - it didn't send its first satellite into orbit until 1970, by which time the U.S. had already landed an astronaut on the moon - but it has caught up fast.

The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic lunar sample-return missions in the 1970s.

The four modules of the Chang'e 5 spacecraft are expected be sent into space Tuesday aboard a massive Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang launch centre along the coast of the southern island province of Hainan, according to a NASA description of the mission.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.

The 8.2-metric-ton spacecraft's lander module will make a soft landing and then use a drill and mechanical arm to to collect underground rocks and soil from the surface. The orbiter and re-entry capsule will remain in orbit while the lander and ascender will descend to the Moon's surface. About 2 kg of samples are expected to be collected and sealed in a container in the spacecraft.

The ascender will then take off, re-enter orbit, and dock with the orbiter-returner. After the samples are transferred to the returner, the ascender will separate from the orbiter-returner.

When the samples are returned to Earth, scientists will be able to analyze the structure, physical properties, and material composition of the moon's soil, the CNSA said.

The samples will then be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China's Inner Mongolia region in early December, according to USA space agency NASA.

The whole flight will last more than 20 days.

Pei said if the Chang'e-5 mission succeeds, China's current lunar exploration project would come to a successful conclusion.

"Although China is now taking the lead in lunar exploration through decades of independent innovation in space technologies, it has always been committed to sharing the achievements", Xinhua said in a commentary.

China is drawing up plans for future lunar exploration. "It will be very hard", said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-5 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. "We could call it a milestone mission". McDowell said other countries may look to China's experience to help with their plans to collect material from asteroids, or possibly even Mars.

The official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday hailed the Chang'e-5 launch as a sign of China's leadership in space.

It was the second Chinese probe to land on the Moon, following the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover mission in 2013.

This site is chosen because the region has a young geological age, younger than the sampling areas of the United States and the Soviet Union 40 years ago. This region has never been sampled.

In particular, the ability to collect samples from space is growing in value, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Chang'e-4 is created to study the makeup of the Moon from its surface by using penetrating radar, and while this is part of the brief for Chang'e-5, it is also created to bring samples back for study here on Earth.

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