China on Tuesday launched a historic mission to moon to collect “first lunar samples,” state-run media reported.
The spacecraft will “collect and return samples from the moon” Xinhua news agency said, adding that it will be the country’s “first attempt to retrieve samples from an extraterrestrial body.”
China’s indigenous Long March-5 rocket carried the “Chang’e-5” spacecraft which blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern island province of Hainan province at around 4:30 a.m. local time (2030 GMT Monday).
It has been named after the Chinese moon goddess.
The spacecraft is “world’s first moon-sample mission for more than 40 years” and one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history, the report said.
Its aim includes “investigation of the landing area to obtain the on-site analysis data related to the lunar samples, as well as systematic and long-term laboratory analysis of the lunar samples.”
Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration, said: “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.”
The spacecraft comprises of an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, with a total takeoff mass of 8.2 tons.
Spacecraft enters lunar orbit
The spacecraft has entered the lunar orbit and has begun its operations with help from its solar panels that provide it independent power source.
It is expected that in next 48 hours, spacecraft’s robotic arm drill bore into the ground. “About 2 kg of samples are expected to be collected and sealed in a container in the spacecraft.”
Only when the geometric relationship between Earth and the moon is “suitable”, the orbiter will carry the returner back to Earth.
It is expected to reenter the atmosphere and land at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region while the flight may last more than 20 days.
China’s current three-step lunar exploration program began in 2004 and it includes orbiting and landing on the moon, and bringing back samples.
“Through the program, China has acquired the basic technologies of unmanned lunar exploration with limited investment,” said Pei.
“Unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit will be a historic first. It will be very difficult,” 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. Its success will help us acquire the basic capabilities for future deep space exploration such as sampling and takeoff from Mars, asteroids and other celestial bodies,” Peng added.
The scientific goals of the Chang’e-5 mission include the investigation of the landing area to obtain the on-site analysis data related to the lunar samples, as well as systematic and long-term laboratory analysis of the lunar samples.
The Chang’e-5 will land to the west of Chang’e-3 which was launched to the moon in 2013.
China’s space authorities said the site was chosen “because the region has a young geological age, younger than the sampling areas of the United States and the Soviet Union more than 40 years ago”.
“This region has never been sampled. The new samples will be of great scientific value,” they said.
“Domestic and overseas scientists will all have a chance to get the lunar samples to be brought back by Chang’e-5 for research,” Pei said.
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