China launched a mission to the Moon on November 23 that promises to collect samples from the lunar surface and return them to Earth for study.
The Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission was launched at 20:30 UTC aboard a Long March 5 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island off China’s southern coast. Approximately 75 minutes after liftoff, Chinese officials announced that the spacecraft had been successfully deployed on its planned trajectory about 75 minutes later.
Since its launch, the spacecraft has completed two orbital corrections. The first burn was conducted at 14:06 UTC on November 24 and lasted for two seconds. The second was completed exactly 24 hours later and was a longer six-second burn.
Following the second orbital correction, Chinese officials said that the spacecraft was currently 270,000 kilometers away from the Earth. Officials also confirmed that the spacecraft’s systems continued to operate nominally.
The more than 8,000-kilogram Chang’e 5 spacecraft is comprised of four main elements, the obiter stage, the lander, the ascent stage, and the reentry module. Once in orbit around the Moon, the lander and ascent vehicle will be deployed and touch down at a predetermined landing zone at Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum, an area on the near side of the Moon.
The two-day surface operations will see the lander drill down into the lunar surface to a depth of two metres. The lander will then collect approximately two kilograms of stones and soil and seal them within a sample container.
Following the completion of surface operations, the sample container will be transferred into the ascent stage which will then launch and rendezvous with the orbiter in lunar orbit.
The ascent stage will then transfer the samples to the reentry capsule which will then depart lunar orbit under the orbiter’s power and return to Earth’s orbit. Finally, the reentry capsule, with the precious sample aboard, will be deployed with an expected touchdown in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
With an expected return to Earth in mid-December, the Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission is expected to be completed in approximately 23 days.