China's Lunar Sample Return Test Spacecraft Due to Return Friday EDT – UPDATE

China's Lunar Sample Return Test Spacecraft Due to Return Friday EDT – UPDATE

UPDATE:  China’s Xinhua news service reported on October 31, 2014 EDT that the return capsule successfully landed.

China’s lunar sample return test spacecraft, launched a week ago, is due to return to Earth tomorrow, October 31 Eastern Daylight Time (November 1 local time in China).  The spacecraft is testing technologies for reentering Earth’s atmosphere at high velocity in preparation for a mission to bring back a sample of the Moon in 2017.

China launched this test flight on October 23 EDT (October 24 Beijing time) on an 8-day mission around the Moon.  China has not offered a specific name for the spacecraft in English-language reports.  In Chinese, however, it is referred to as “Chang’e wu hao feixing shiyan qi” or “CE-5 Flight Test Device” according to Jonathan McDowell, author of Jonathan’s Space Report.  Some analysts of the Chinese space program refer to it as Chang’e-5T1, but the origin of that designation is unclear.

The spacecraft has returned several images during its journey.  One of those posted on China’s website shows the Moon and the Earth.

Photo of Earth and Moon taken by China’s lunar sample return test spacecraft, October 2014.
Photo credit:  Xinhua and

The actual sample return mission, Chang’e-5, is scheduled for launch in 2017.  In preparation for that launch, China decided to test the reentry technologies needed for returning a sample container from lunar distance.  Landing is expected in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Chinese press reports today say that the spacecraft will return on November 1 local time in China, but do not specify exactly when.  Bob Christy at calculates that the landing will be at 22:40 GMT (6:40 pm EDT) October 31 plus or minus 10 minutes based on NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen).  He reports that the reentry vehicle will use a “skip” reentry profile where it will first dip into the atmosphere to reduce speed and then reenter a second time to make a ballistic landing using a parachute.  He adds that the main spacecraft may remain in orbit in the Earth-Moon system.

China has launched two orbiters (Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2) and one lander/rover (Chang’e-3/Yutu) to the Moon already.   Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon.  Yutu is her pet Jade Rabbit.  After orbiting the Moon, Chang’e-2 was sent on an additional excursion to flyby the asteroid Toutatis, which it did in 2012.  In reporting today on the expected return of this test mission, Xinhua also provided an update on Chang’e-2 saying that as of July it was 100 million kilometers from Earth and would travel as far as 300 million kilometers from Earth before returning to a distance 7 million kilometers from Earth in 2029.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.