China successfully launches its first spacecraft to moon

Vastavam web: China successfully launched its first unmanned space mission on Tuesday to collect samples from the moon’s surface and return to earth, the country’s maiden attempt to retrieve materials from an extra-terrestrial body. China has successfully launched the Chang’e-5 lunar probe from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern province of Hainan, state-run CGTN reported. The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-5 rocket at 4.30 am (Beijing Time).

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 in more than 40 years. The United States sent astronauts to the moon to collect samples. In the Soviet Union’s unmanned lunar sampling missions, the spacecraft took off from the moon and returned to Earth directly. 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, Pei said.

Chang’e-5, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, with a total take-off mass of 8.2 tonnes, is expected to accomplish unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, a complicated feat. After it enters the lunar orbit, the lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination. 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.
When the geometric relationship between Earth and the moon is suitable, the orbiter will carry the returner back to the planet. The returner will re-enter the atmosphere and land at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Pei said if the Chang’e-5 mission succeeds, China’s current lunar exploration project would come to a successful conclusion. Named after legendary Chinese moon goddess Chang’e, China’s current three-step lunar exploration programme, which began in 2004, includes orbiting and landing on the moon along with bringing back samples. The aim of the programme is for China to acquire the basic technologies of unmanned lunar exploration with limited investment, Pei said.