Tag Archives: Chang’e 5

Chinese lunar sample return mission set for November

The competition heats up: China has scheduled for November its next mission to the Moon, the first lunar sample return mission since the American Apollo manned missions and the first robotic sample return mission since the Soviets did it in 1976.

China has announced that its Chang’e-5 automated Moon surface sampling and return mission will launch in late November 2017. The 8.2-tonne probe will launch on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan island, and attempt the first lunar sample return since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976.

The mission will be complex, with some of the key technologies and techniques involved will also be applicable for a Chinese Mars sample return mission, planned for around 2030, as well as future crewed journeys to the lunar surface. “The lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a return module, an ascender and a lander,” state media Xinhua quoted Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts, as saying.

Having soft-landed on the Moon and drilled for and collected samples, an ascent module will perform an automated docking with an orbiter in a lunar orbit 380,000 km away from Earth. The orbiter will then head on a trajectory for home, with the return module separating from the orbiter close to Earth and making a high speed atmospheric ‘skip’ reentry.

Without question the Chinese program is ramping up, and it is doing so in a very rational and pragmatic manner. It is also clear that they are carefully developing the technologies necessary to later launch manned missions to the Moon, which could also include sending their first space stations on lunar orbital missions.

The Earth/Moon double planet, as seen by China’s Chang’e 5 probe

Earth/Moon as seen by Chang'e 5

China’s Chang’e 5 probe has taken a spectacular image of the Moon and Earth as it whips around the Moon on its circumlunar test flight.

Though China has released little additional information about the status of the mission, this image demonstrates that the vehicle is functioning well, sending back data, and that they are controlling its operation precisely and exactly as planned. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on November 1.

Meanwhile, China’s second lunar probe, Chang’e 2, now in solar orbit about 60 million miles from Earth, continues to operate four years after launch

China outlines the plans for its next two unmanned lunar probes, with the second targeted as a 2017 sample return mission.

China outlines its plans for its next two unmanned lunar probes, with the second targeted as a 2017 sample return mission.

Key quote:

The new mission planned for 2017 would mark the third and final phase of China’s robotic lunar exploration program and pave the way for possibly landing an astronaut on the moon after 2020.

As I mentioned last night, the soft landing on Saturday demonstrated they are developing the technology to land a manned vehicle safely on the Moon. To return samples safely would demonstrate they are developing the technology to return that manned vehicle safely as well.

Update: Yutu did not land anywhere near its planned landing location.

China had originally publicized a location in the Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) — a level area thoroughly surveyed by a previous Chinese mission — as the landing spot. Local media even stated that Chang’e 3 landed there. But Chinese scientists have since confirmed that the spacecraft landed slightly to the east, in the northern part of Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains).

It is unclear whether this was a late change or the result of a technical problem.