China to Launch Spacecraft to Collect Material from the Moon

China to Launch Spacecraft to Collect Material from the Moon

The orbiter and re-entry capsule will remain in orbit while the lander and ascender will descend to the Moon's surface. If Chang'e-5 is successful, China will become only the third country to have retrieved lunar rock, following in the footsteps of the United States and the USSR.

The mission is technically challenging and involves several innovations not seen during previous attempts at collecting moon rocks, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

The samples could help scientists better understand the Moon's volcanic history; while prior samples have indicated that the Moon stopped spewing lava 3.5 billion years ago, according to Nature, there is also evidence that the timeline could be more like one or two billion years ago.

Other countries are also forging ahead, underscored by the dramatic landing of America's Curiosity Mars rover in 2012 and the return to Earth next month of Japan's explorer Hayabusa2 with samples collected from the asteroid Ryugu. Even China's permanent space station, now under construction, is partly a response to its exclusion from the International Space Station, mainly at the insistence of the U.S.

Upon entering the moon's orbit, the spacecraft is meant to deploy a pair of vehicles to the lunar surface: a lander and an ascender.

The plan is for the lander to drill into the lunar surface, with a robotic arm scooping out soil and rocks. According to NASA, the ascender will then dock on the service capsule, at which point the samples will be transferred to the return capsule.

The samples then would be transferred to a return capsule for the return trip to Earth, with a landing in China's Inner Mongolia region. The returner will eventually separate, re-enter our atmosphere, and land in China.

Pei said if the Chang'e-5 mission succeeds, China's current lunar exploration project would come to a successful conclusion.

The Chang'e 5 mission, if successful, would be the first time moon rocks and debris are brought to Earth since a 1976 Soviet mission.

Chinese technicians were making final preparations Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, to launch a Long March-5 rocket carrying a mission to bring back material from the lunar surface in a potentially major advance for the country's space program. That would the first opportunity scientists have had 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.

"Although China is now taking the lead in lunar exploration through decades of independent innovation in space technologies, it has always been committed to sharing the achievements", Xinhua said in a commentary.

While the USA has followed China's successes closely, it's unlikely to engage China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say.

Speaking to astronauts aboard the Shenzhou 10 spacecraft by video link in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "the space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger".

China became the third country to put a person into orbit 17 years ago and the first to land on the far side of the moon in 2019.

In July, China launched its Tianwen-1 mission, marking the country's first attempt to land a rover on Mars. The spacecraft is expected to take three days to reach the moon.

The aim of the programme is for China to acquire the basic technologies of unmanned lunar exploration with limited investment, Pei said.

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