Moon Mission: China’s Chang’e-5 launch aims to collect moon rocks

The unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, obtained from the mythical Chinese moon goddess, exploded early in the morning in Hainan, near the southern tip of the country, from the launch site of the Wenchang spacecraft.

After takeoff, the spacecraft separated from its engines and protective cover and landed on the Earth – Moon transfer orbit. Live footage from the launch shows Chinese troops and engineers applauding in the control room as amps fell from either side of the missile and as the spacecraft broke away from the missile in orbit.

Once in orbit around the moon, the probe installs a few vehicles on the surface to drill into the ground and collect soil and rock samples.

If successful, the mission will only bring to China the third country that has received lunar samples, following the United States and the Soviet Union decades ago.

U.S. astronauts brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of rock and soil under the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972, while the Soviet Union collected 170.1 grams (6 ounces) of samples in 1976.

In the decades since, data from orbital remote sensing missions have shown that the moon has a much greater diversity of rock types and ages than the existing patterns suggest.

The Chang’e-5 probe attempts to collect a 2-kilogram (4.5-pound) sample from a previously unvisited area of ​​the Moon — a vast lava plain known as the Oceanus Procellarum or “Ocean of Storms.” According to NASA, this large dark spot, about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) wide, could be the scar of a huge cosmic effect that created an ancient sea of ​​magma.

These patterns could help scientists better understand the origins and foundations of the Moon – and lay the groundwork for more complex sampling missions on other planets in the future.

A month-long mission

The spacecraft consists of an orbiting, a landing, an ascent and a return, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) writes.
When the Chang’e-5 enters the orbit of the moon, the spacecraft splits in two: the orbital-returning combination remains in space and is approx. It orbits 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) while the landing-take-off combination descends and lands in the Ocean of Storms. This is expected to happen by early December, according to the Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

Within 48 hours of violating the takeoff of the landing machine, her robotic arm will pick up rocks from the surface and a drilling machine will drill into the ground to collect the ground. The samples are sealed in the spacecraft tank.

The March 5 long rocket carrying the Chang'e 5 can be seen at the launch pad at Wenchang Space Airport in Hainan.

The ascender then takes off, re-enters, and docks with the orbit return. At this stage, the samples are transferred to the returnee and the ascender is separated, so that the orbiting-returnee begins its journey to Earth. The returnee eventually separates, re-enters our atmosphere, and lands in China.

Xinhua said the mission will last from more than 20 days from start to finish.

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 mission can help answer questions such as how long the moon has remained volcanically active inside it and when its magnetic field has dissipated – which is key to protecting any form of life from solar radiation.

“The unmanned rendezvous and docking around the moon will be historic for the first time. It will be very difficult,” Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the probe, said in the Xinhua report. “We can call it a milestone mission. Its success will help it master the basic skills of future deep space exploration, such as sampling and taking off from Mars, asteroids and other celestial bodies.”

China’s space ambitions

China was late for the space race – it sent its first satellite into orbit only in 1970, when the United States had already landed with an astronaut on the moon – but quickly caught up.

China has rapidly accelerated its space program, firing space labs and satellites into orbit over the past decade through government investment increased by billions of dollars.

China on the other side of the lunar mission is just the beginning of space ambitions

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Qing-ping spoke to astronauts aboard the Senzhou 10 spacecraft in a video link, Chinese President Xi Qing-ping said, “the dream of space is part of the dream of making China stronger.”

“The Chinese people are taking bigger steps to further explore space,” he added.

Last year, China was the first country to send an unmanned rover to the other side of the moon. And in July this year, China began its first unmanned mission to Mars – the Tianwen-1 probe orbiting the planet before a rover landed on the surface. It is expected to reach the Red Planet next February.

If Tianwen-1 is successful, Beijing plans to eventually send a human mission to Mars. There are also plans to launch a permanent space station by 2022 and send astronauts to the moon by 2030.

If successful, China will be only the second country after the United States to cast a citizen on the moon.

CNN’s James Griffiths contributed to the report.