WENCHANG, Nov 24 — China Tuesday launched a spacecraft to collect and return samples from the moon, the country’s first attempt to retrieve samples from an extraterrestrial body, Xinhua news agency reported.
A Long March-5 rocket, carrying the Chang’e-5 spacecraft, blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the coast of southern island province of Hainan 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 for more than 40 years.
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, said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Programme Centre of the China National Space Administration.
Chang’e-5, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, with a total takeoff mass of 8.2 tonnes, is expected to accomplish unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, an unprecedented feat.
After it enters the lunar orbit, the lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination.
While the orbiter-returner orbits about 200 km above the lunar surface, the lander-ascender will touch down on the northwest region of Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon in early December.
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 Earth. The returner will reenter the atmosphere and land at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The whole flight will last more than 20 days.
Named after Chinese legendary moon goddess Chang’e, China’s current three-step lunar exploration programme, which began in 2004, includes orbiting and landing on the moon, and bringing back samples.
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.