China calls launch a success as robotic spacecraft heads to moon

Xinhua News Agency a Long March-5 rocket is moved at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Wenchang in southern China's Hainan Province. Chinese technicians were making final preparations Monday Nov. 23 2020

China Moon Mission Will Try To Bring Back The First Lunar Rocks In Decades

China has launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon, on a mission to bring back samples from the lunar surface.

The launch had originally been planned for 2017, but was postponed due to an engine failure in the Long March 5 rocket, according to Nature.

The Chang'e-5 probe will attempt to collect 2 kilograms (4.5 pounds) of samples in a previously unvisited area of the moon - a massive lava plain known as Oceanus Procellarum, or "Ocean of Storms."According to NASA, this large dark spot, stretching about 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) wide, could be a scar from a giant cosmic impact that created an ancient sea of magma".

November 1975: China's first recoverable satellite is successfully launched and returned to Earth.

She told The Associated Press the technical complexity of Chang'e 5 is "remarkable in many ways".

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, Pei said. The spacecraft includes an ascender, lander, orbiter and returner, with the plan being for the lander and ascender to descend to the Moon's surface next month, where it will land near Mons Rümker.

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After it enters the lunar orbit, the lander-ascender combination will separate from the orbiter-returner combination.

The material would be transferred to the ascender vehicle first, which would carry it from the surface and then dock with an orbiting module.

The lander will drill into the lunar surface with a robotic arm to scoop out soil and rocks, about 4.4 lbs. About 2 kg of samples are expected to be collected and sealed in a container in the spacecraft.

When the geometric relationship between Earth and the moon is suitable, the orbiter will carry the returner back to the planet. A return capsule will deliver them back to Earth, landing on the grasslands of the Inner Mongolia region in mid-December.

The whole flight will last more than 20 days.

China has increasingly engaged with foreign countries on missions, and the European Space Agency will be providing important ground station information for Chang'e 5.

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While the US has followed China's successes closely, it's unlikely to engage China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units that China's current lunar rover, the Chang'e 4, possesses to withstand the moon's freezing nights. If Chang'e-5 is successful, China will become only the third country to have retrieved lunar rock, following in the footsteps of the U.S. and the USSR. That would the first opportunity scientists have had to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s. "It will be very hard", said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the probe, in the Xinhua report. NASA launched its Mars mission, called Perseverance, the next week. McDowell said other countries may look to China's experience to help with their plans to collect material from asteroids, or possibly even Mars.

It was the second Chinese probe to land on the Moon, following the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover mission in 2013.

China's space program has at times been seen as recreating achievements attained years ago by others, primarily the USA and the former Soviet Union.

"The US never did a robotic sample return".

In particular, the ability to collect samples from space is growing in value, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

"Domestic and overseas scientists will all have a chance to get the lunar samples to be brought back by Chang'e-5 for research", Pei added.

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