China’s Chang’e-5 Gets to Work on Lunar Surface

China’s Chang’e-5 Gets to Work on Lunar Surface

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission landed on the Moon today and immediately began collecting samples for return to Earth. Chang’e-5 is the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the Moon, but the first to attempt to bring lunar soil and rocks back home, becoming just the third country to do so.

Chang’e-5 was launched on November 24 Eastern Standard Time (November 25 in China) and had an uneventful trip to the Moon.  It consists of a lander and ascent vehicle, and an orbiter and sample return capsule.  It entered orbit on Saturday and the lander/ascent vehicle separated from the orbiter/return capsule in preparation for today’s landing.

Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon.

The lander is equipped with a drill and a scoop to collect 2 kilograms of lunar material over a period of 48 hours.  The  ascent vehicle will lift off from the surface, rendezvous with the orbiter, and transfer the samples into the return capsule.  The orbiter will then bring the return capsule back towards Earth where it will detach and land in Inner Mongolia. China tweeted an animation of the complex choreography.

The mission is reminiscent of how the U.S. Apollo crews landed on and returned from the Moon and Chinese officials have indicated they consider Chang’e-5 as a prelude to human lunar exploration. China’s Xinhua news service cited Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA’s) Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center, as saying 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.”

The crews of the six U.S. Apollo missions that landed on the Moon between 1969 and 1972 returned 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar rocks and soil. Three robotic Soviet probes, Luna 16, 20 and 24, collectively brought back 301 grams (10.6 ounces) between 1970 and 1976.  China’s goal for Chang’e-5 is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples.

China’s CGTN television announced it would provide live coverage of today’s landing, but abrutly ended its coverage just before the landing sequence was to begin. The successful landing was not revealed until Xinhua announced it after the fact.

CGTN later tweeted a short video of the landing and reaction in mission control.

On Twitter, @CosmicPenguin reported that based on data on an image in that video, the exact landing time was December 1, 2020, 15:11:20.924 UTC (10:11:20.924 EST).

CNSA identified the landing site as 51.8 degrees west longitude and 43.1 degrees north latitude at the north side of Mons Rumker in the Ocean of Storms.

China space expert Andrew Jones tweeted that Chang’e-5 conducted its first drilling operation soon after landing.

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