February 26, 2021

The Chinese probe Chang’e 5 begins its return to Earth with lunar samples


If completed, the mission would make China the third country to collect lunar samples.

If completed, the mission would make China the third country to collect lunar samples.
MA Montesinos

The Chinese probe Chang’e 5 this Sunday started his return to earth with a cargo of about two kilograms of moon rock, reported the National Space Administration of the Asian country (ANEC).

In a statement published today on its website, the ANEC detailed that “the orbit module and the return module successfully entered the orbit for transferring the Moon to Earth.”

This was achieved because, “at 09.51 Beijing time (01.51 GMT) on December 13, the orbit module and the return module carried out the second Moon-Earth transfer maneuver, and started four engines 150N at a distance of about 230 kilometers from the Moon for about 22 minutes, “explained the text.

Later, the Chang’e 5 modules are scheduled to perform an orbit correction during their return journey to Earth, and the return module will eventually separate from the orbit module, according to the source.

Last weekend, the Moon ascent module and the return module successfully coupled to the orbit module, which had kept rotating around the satellite while the rest of the components collected the lunar samples.

Since then, they had kept orbiting the Moon, waiting to reach the proper path to start the return.

In uncharted territory

On December 1, the probe successfully landed in an area north of Mons Rümker, in the Oceanus Procellarum, on the visible side of the Moon, an area not visited to date neither by astronauts nor by unmanned space missions.

The samples were collected in two different ways: on the surface of the Moon, thanks to a robotic arm, and underground, through a drill that drilled two meters into the satellite to obtain varied samples that could date from much earlier periods.

The collected material was stored after a vacuum-sealed container to “ensure that it is not affected by external conditions during the return to Earth,” the ANEC said at the time.

A very active space program

If completed successfully, the mission would make China the third country capable of collecting lunar samples after previously the United States and the former Soviet Union did in the 1970s.

The Chang’e 5 was launched on November 24 by a Long March-5 rocket, which already successfully carried the first Chinese mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, into space on July 23, and whose arrival on the planet Red is forecast for next May.

For its part, the Chang’e program (named after a goddess who, according to Chinese mythology, lives on the Moon) began with the launch of a first orbital probe in 2007.

The Asian country made its first moon landing in 2013 and, in January 2019, managed to get the Chang’e 4 probe to land on its hidden face -where it still remains-, a milestone never before achieved in the history of lunar exploration.

The ultimate goal of the program is a manned mission to the Moon and the construction of a science base on the satellite, although no date has been set for this.

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