China's latest lunar probe blasts off

James Marshall
November 24, 2020

China has successfully launched the Chang'e-5 lunar probe from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern province of Hainan.

The launch had originally been planned for 2017, but was postponed due to an engine failure in the Long March 5 rocket, according to Nature.

On Monday afternoon China launched a spacecraft that, if its mission is successful, will bring Moon rocks back to Earth for the first time in more than 40 years.

No target date for a crewed moon mission has been announced, but Pei said a goal down the line is to build an worldwide lunar research station that can provide long-term support for scientific exploration activities on the lunar surface.

Joining the space race, the Chinese robotic space spacecraft is supposed to bring back lunar rocks in its first attempt. Only two other countries, the US and the former Soviet Union, have brought samples back from the moon.

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After it enters the lunar orbit, the lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination. Chang'e-5 is expected to spend roughly two weeks on the Moon's surface (or the equivalent of a single lunar day) during which time scientists hope it will drill roughly six and a half feet and collect roughly 4.4 pounds of material. 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. The materials will then be moved to the return capsule to be hauled back to Earth.

The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China.

The whole flight will last more than 20 days.

State TV footage of the launch showed the rocket blasting off into a dark night and carrying the Chang'e-5 probe - named for the mythical Chinese moon goddess - with huge clouds of smoke billowing out underneath.

While many of China's crewed spaceflight achievements, including building an experimental space station and conducting a spacewalk, reproduce those of other countries from years past, the CNSA is now moving into new territory. As per the Artemis Accord, making "safety zones" for future lunar bases would prevent damage or interference from other rival countries or companies working in close areas.

The mission is among China's boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the US and Russian Federation. That would offer the first opportunity for scientists to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s. "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. NASA launched its Mars mission, called Perseverance, the next week. "Its success will help us acquire the basic capabilities for future deep space exploration such as sampling and take-off from Mars, asteroids and other celestial bodies", Peng was quoted by Xinhua. The mission may help answer questions such as how long the moon remained volcanically active in its interior, and when its magnetic field - key to protecting any form of life from the sun's radiation - dissipated.

The landing site of Chang'e-5 will be to the west of that of Chang'e-3, which went to the moon in 2013.

"The US never did a robotic sample return".

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. It's not clear whether the samples will leave the country for outside research.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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