Chang’e-5 now in lunar orbit

The new colonial movement: China’s lunar sample return probe Chang’e-5 has now entered in lunar orbit, with its landing to occur in three days.

Over the next week, the probe, composed of four parts – the orbiter, lander, ascender and Earth re-entry module – will perform multiple complicated tasks on a tight schedule.

The four parts will separate into two pairs. The lander and ascender will head to the moon and collect samples, while the orbiter and Earth re-entry module will continue to fly around the moon and adjust to a designated orbit, getting ready for the docking with the ascender.

The landing operation is expected in three days. Once touched down on the lunar surface, the lander will collect two kilograms of lunar sample.

The plan once on the surface is to gather a sample from the surface as well as from a six-foot deep core sample.

China successfully launches its Chang’e-5 lunar sample mission

screen capture at Long March 5 launch of Chang'e-5
Screen capture from launch live feed

The new colonial movement: China today successfully used its Long March 5 rocket to launch its Chang’e-5 on the first lunar sample return mission since the 1970s.

If all goes well, the return capsule will return to Earth with its sample on December 15th.

China provided a live stream, in English, which I have embedded below the fold.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

31 China
21 SpaceX
12 Russia
5 ULA
5 Rocket Lab

The U.S. still leads China 34 to 31 in the national rankings.
» Read more

Long March 5 moves to launchpad for Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China has transported its biggest rocket, the Long March 5, from its hanger to its launchpad in preparation for the scheduled November 24th launch of Chang’e-5, planned to be the first lunar sample return mission since the 1970s..

The linked article above, from the Associated Press but published at ABC news, appears to have been tweaked by China’s propaganda department. Consider for example this quote of the article’s last paragraph:

[China’s] space program has progressed cautiously, with relatively few setbacks in recent years. The Long March-5, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its bulky shape, failed on a previous launch attempt, but China’s enormous pool of technical and engineering talent appears to have allowed it to overcome most obstacles. [emphasis mine]

My heart be still. China has an “enormous pool of talent”. How amazing! It is a interesting the AP and ABC didn’t also note China’s enormous pool of computer hackers, who hacked into the JPL database over a period of ten years and stole its U.S. designs for rovers and unmanned probes, which were then used as a template for all their own planetary missions.

Be warned. China has many allies within the U.S., many in academia and in the press. These Americans have no loyalty to this country, and in fact if asked might actually express a greater support for China.

Overview of China’s lunar sample return mission

Chang'e-5 landing site on Moon

Link here. The Chinese mission, the first to bring back lunar samples since the 1970s, is now set for launch on November 24, 2020.

Chang’e-5 includes a lander, ascender, orbiter and returner. After the spacecraft enters the Moon’s orbit, the lander-and-ascender pair will split off and descend close to Mons Rümker, a 1,300-metre-high volcanic complex in the northern region of Oceanus Procellarum — the vast, dark lava plains visible from Earth. Once the craft has touched down, it will drill up to 2 metres into the ground and extend a robotic arm to scoop up about 2 kilograms of surface material. The material will be stored in the ascender for lift-off.

The descent and ascent will take place over one lunar day, which is equivalent to around 14 Earth days, to avoid the extreme overnight temperatures that could damage electronics, says Clive Neal, a geoscientist at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

…Once the ascender is back in lunar orbit, the samples will be transferred to the returner. This in-flight rendezvous will be complex and “a good rehearsal for future human exploration”, says James Carpenter, a research coordinator for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, the Netherlands. China plans to send people to the Moon from around 2030.

The Chang’e-5 spacecraft will then journey back to Earth, with the lander parachuting toward Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia, northern China, probably sometime in early December.

The location, as shown in the image above, is in the northern mid-latitudes of the Moon’s nearside, and is a place where some relatively recent volcanic activity might have occurred, though still in the far past.

More delays for China’s Long March 5

Chinese officials have now admitted that the next launch of China’s biggest but troubled rocket, the Long March 5, will not occur until December 2019 at the earliest.

Moreover, the first launch of Long March 5B, the new version of the rocket developed following the Long March 5 failure on its second launch in 2017, won’t happen until 2020. This is the version they plan to use to launch their space station modules, and these delays probably thus delay start of the in-orbit assembly of their space station by two years, to 2022.

These rocket delays also threaten the launch of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission and their first Mars orbiting mission, which has a firm summer 2020 launch window which if missed will delay the mission’s launch for two years.

These reports also for the first time officially explain the engine trouble that caused the Long March failure on its second launch in July 2017.

Addressing the causes of the failure has required a lengthy process of redesign and testing of the YF-77 liquid hydrogen-liquid oxygen propellant engines. Two YF-77 engines power the rocket’s first stage, with an oxidizer turbopump isolated as the fault behind the 2017 launch failure.

The Space News article very strangely headlines the completion of the core module for China’s space station, when the real story here is the continuing delays in getting Long March 5 off the ground. Without that rocket none of China’s big space plans can proceed. Yet the article buries this scoop many paragraphs down. I wonder why.

More delays for Long March 5?

It appears that there might be more delays in the next launch of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, which in turn will cause delays to the Moon, Mars, and space station projects.

The Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket is China’s most powerful launch vehicle and was designed to launch large spacecraft to geosynchronous orbits and planetary bodies. It was being prepared for a third flight in July, Yang Baohua, vice president of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s main space contractor and developer of the Long March 5, announced in a Jan. 29 news conference in Beijing.

The mission would come two years after the failure of the second launch. However that schedule appears to have slipped as the launch vehicle has yet to be delivered to the launch site, with knock-on effects possible for China’s major space plans. [emphasis mine]

The Chinese have said nothing to explain the situation.

Without this rocket they cannot launch their next lunar mission, Chang’e-5 sample return mission, their next Mars mission, set for the launch window 2020, and their space station, set for construction beginning in 2021.

China reveals landing site for Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: In a recent paper Chinese scientists revealed their landing plans for the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, presently scheduled for at 2019 launch.

If all goes according to plan, the robotic Chang’e 5 will land in the Rümker region, which lies within a huge basaltic lunar plain called Oceanus Procellarum (Latin for “Ocean of Storms”).

A recent paper lays out the scientific significance of this site, and what Chang’e 5 may be able to find there. “Recent studies find that the geological features and volcanic history of the moon are far more complex than previously thought, and many of the most interesting areas have been neither explored nor sampled,” states the study, which was led by Yuqi Qian of the School of Earth Sciences at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. “One such area is the northern Oceanus Procellarum region, which consists of very young (<2 Ga) [less than 2 billion years old] mare materials and hosts one of the largest volcanic complexes on the moon (Mons Rümker)."
For the study, the research team conducted a detailed geological mapping of the Rümker region using imagery, spectral and altimetry data.

Chang’e-5 should not be confused with Chang’e-4, which is set to launch in the fall to land on the Moon’s far side.

The choice of the volcanic region around the Ocean of Storms is significant, as it indicates that, for at least this mission, China is not focused on the possibly more valuable polar regions where water-ice might be present for future lunar bases. Instead, they are giving a priority to science and geology with this probe. They likely also picked this site because it is near the equator and therefore a bit easier to reach on this first daring sample return mission.

It does appear however that China is taking the long view. The landing choice here suggests to me that they plan many more missions to the Moon, and do not see anyone else in a position to compete with them for territory. The U.S., Russia, and Europe appear to be throwing their eggs into the basket of (F)LOP-G, which will merely orbit the Moon and eat up resources preventing these countries from planning and building any landing missions, for decades. India meanwhile might be a competitor, but at the moment it is far behind.

China reveals landing site for Chang’e-5 lander/rover

China has chosen the landing site for its Chang’e-5 lander/rover and sample return mission, planned to launch later this year.

Liu Jizhong, director of China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China National Space Administration (CNSA), for the first time disclosed the probe landing site, an isolated volcanic formation located in the northwest part of the Moon’s near side.

They also said their focus will be the Moon’s south pole, where there is evidence of the possible presence of water ice.

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.