Chinese probe orbiting the Moon with Earth-bound samples

Dec 8, 2020 | Daily Space, Moon, Rovers/Landers

IMAGE: This image provided by China National Space Administration shows Chang’e-5 probe gathering samples on the moon surface on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020. A Chinese lunar probe lifted off from the moon Thursday, Dec. 3 night with a cargo of lunar samples on the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported, on what is expected to be a breakthrough mission for the rising Asian space power. CREDIT: China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP

Back on November 23, we brought live coverage to you of China’s historic Chang’e 5 launch. Chang’e 5 is China’s first lunar sample return mission, and the story may sound familiar. Rocket launches from Earth, spacecraft heads to the Moon, lander drops to the Moon’s surface. Now, instead of humans, the Chinese lander was entirely robotic, picking up samples to bring back for analysis.

On Friday, the ascent stage of the lander blasted off from the surface and successfully docked with the orbiter. Then two kilograms of lunar material was transferred to the reentry portion, and the ascent stage was cut free. Now we wait for a week for the orbiter to hit the right window for returning to Earth.

So far, so good. And congratulations to the Chinese team!

Next up, the craft “will first “bounce” off the Earth’s atmosphere to slow its speed before the reentry vehicle separates and floats down on parachutes to land on the vast steppes of Inner Mongolia, where China’s Shenzhou crewed spaceships have also made their landings.”

If all goes according to plan, the Chinese will be the third nation to bring back lunar rocks. Their ambitious lunar missions to date also include the Chang’e 3 rover and the Chang’e 4 probe, both of which are still operational and sending back data. They have plans for a moonbase, and their own space station is expected to be operational in 2022.

We will continue to cover their efforts as they happen, so stay tuned.

More Information article 

Science News article 


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