Chang'e 5 shoots for the moon
Ten, nine, eight, seven ... With a dazzling flame trailing behind, the fifth Long March 5 carrier rocket with the Chang'e 5 lunar probe launched at 4:30 am on Nov 24.
The Chang'e 5 lunar probe plans to return with samples of the moon. The entire mission will last about 23 days, according to the China National Space Administration. If this mission is successful, Chang'e 5 will be the first lunar sample-return spacecraft since 1976, when the former Soviet Union's unmanned Luna 24 brought 170.1 grams of lunar samples back.
As one of the most complex and difficult missions in China's aerospace field, the Chang'e 5 mission aims to bring back a larger sample than previous crafts and explore a new area of the moon.
"The three unmanned lunar probes of the former Soviet Union – Lunar 16, Lunar 20 and Lunar 24 – carried out three lunar samplings and return missions, and the lunar soil samples brought back were only about 330 grams, while Chang'e 5 plans to bring back 2 kilograms of lunar samples," Pang Zhihao, a space activity researcher and author in Beijing, told Science and Technology Daily. The great increase in sample weight can be attributed to Chang'e 5's lunar orbit unmanned docking program. With the program, the ascender doesn't need a return cabin anymore. It only requires a small amount of fuel, so even a relatively heavier sampling will not affect the normal return of the spacecraft.
The climax of the journey is Chang'e 5's lunar landing site – the northwest region of Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms – on the near side of the moon, where no probes have visited before. It's geologically younger than the sampling areas of the US and the former Soviet missions, so the new samples will help fill in an important piece of the puzzle of the moon's history.
"Chinese scientists and those from other countries all have a chance to get the lunar samples to be brought back by Chang'e 5 for research," Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center, told China Daily.
Based on the idea of a community with a shared future for mankind, China has signed cooperation framework agreements with the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Russia's state space corporation Roscosmos and the European Space Agency.