As of Wednesday (16), China can be officially declared as a third country that will bring samples of the lunar surface to the USA and the Soviet Union. The Chang’e-5 mission capsule re-entered the earth’s atmosphere in the early afternoon (early morning on the 17th local time) and parachuted to land in Inner Mongolia, where it was rescued by Chinese teams.
It was the successful end of a mission that lasted just under a month. Chang’e-5 departed from the Wenchang Launch Center in southern China on November 23 on a Long March-5 missile. With four modules and more than eight tons, it was the largest spaceship China has ever sent into space. The translunar injection maneuver involving the firing of the propellers to place the ship on its way to the moon was seen in the sky of Brazil.
Despite China’s discretion in announcing its space initiatives, the lunar journey was accompanied by amateur astronomers who registered the spaceship, which was even approaching the moon. On November 28, the spaceship fired its propellant to slow down and be gravity-grabbed by the moon. Over the next two days, the spaceship orbited orbit and separated the descent stage.
The landing took place on December 1 and China threatened to broadcast the landing live but backed off at the last minute. Chinese state television later released the full video.
A few hours after landing, the probe initiated the successful sampling process, which used a drill bit to preserve the underground contents and a robotic arm to collect material from the surface. The samples were then placed in the ascent module. The moon started on December 3rd – the first such event since 1974, when the Soviet Luna-24 mission left there and brought a few grams of the lunar surface.
The Chinese mission brings about 2 kg with a different architecture. While the Luna-24’s return missile came straight to Earth, the Chang’e-5’s ascent module only went into lunar orbit, where it hit an orbital module. And that’s where the first automatic docking in lunar orbit in history took place.
After the harvested material was transferred to a return capsule, the orbital module shot back to Earth and culminated in a re-entry.
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