The launch of the Chinese probe Chang’e-5, with which the first collection of samples from the moon since 1976, took place successfully on Monday (23) at 5:30 p.m. The flight left the Space Launch Center from Wenchang on the southern Chinese island of Hainan, the translational injection (firing the rocket to place the ship on its way to the natural satellite) occurred less than an hour later.
In a somewhat surprising way, the Chinese state television broadcast the start live (in Beijing it was on Tuesday the 24th, 4:30 in the morning). This is the boldest unmanned mission this country has ever undertaken.
The destination is the Mount Rümker region on Oceanus Procellarum (in the same “sea” in which Apollo 12 descended in 1969, but far from the American landing site). There the sun should rise on Friday 27th and the landing should take place soon after. It is planned that Chang’e-5 will work on lunar soil for about two weeks (as long as there is sunlight) and take samples up to 2 meters deep at the landing site with a drill.
The samples are loaded onto the ascent module installed on top of the descent module (as in the Apollo missions) and then it is launched to hit the orbital module and return pod. The set then leaves the lunar orbit towards Earth. Samples shipped in the return capsule are expected to be released into the atmosphere between December 16-17. The descent is done by parachute and the material is saved in Inner Mongolia.
The Chinese space program tested the re-entry capsule model back in 2014 with the Chang’e-5-T1 mission. The lunar landing modules were also extensively tested in the Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4 missions (the latter was the first landing of a country on the other side of the moon in 2019). The greatest tension is therefore in the ascent module, which has to bring the samples from the surface into the orbit of the moon.
And something that caught the attention of program watchers is the size of the ships. They are small for manned flights but quite large for pure robotic missions, indicating that China is using its lunar program as a technological forerunner for future astronaut missions. The country does not hide its ambition to have a lunar base in the next decade. Everything starts now.
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