China prepares for return of lunar probe with moon samples
Publish- December 16, 2020, 04:30 PM
UNB NEWS - UNB NEWS
In this China National Space Administration (CNSA) photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a simulated image of the ascender of Chang'e-5 spacecraft blasting off from the lunar surface at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Dec. 3, 2020. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua via AP)
Chinese ground crews are standing by for the return of a lunar probe bringing back the first fresh samples of rock and debris from the moon in more than 45 years.
The Chang’e probe is expected to land in the Siziwang district of the vast Inner Mongolia region late Wednesday or early Thursday.
It fired its engines early Wednesday to put it on course before the orbiter separates from the return vehicle, with all systems functioning as expected, the China National Space Administration said.
Recovery of the return vehicle will be complicated by its small size, darkness and heavy snow, state media reported.
Plans call for it to perform an initial bounce off the Earth’s atmosphere to reduce its speed before passing through and floating down on parachutes, making it difficult to precisely calculate where it will land, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Bian Hancheng, a leader of the recovery crew, as saying.
State broadcaster CCTV showed four military helicopters standing by Wednesday morning at a base on the snow-covered grasslands. Crews in vehicles on the ground will also seek to hone in on signals. While sprawling in size, the area is relatively familiar because of its use as a landing site for China’s Shenzhou crewed spaceships.
Chang'e 5 set down on the moon on Dec. 1 and collected about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of samples by scooping them from the surface, and by drilling 2 meters (about 6 feet) into the moon’s crust. The samples were deposited in a sealed container that was carried back to the return module by an ascent vehicle.
Flying a Chinese flag, the lander ceased functioning soon after it was used as a launching pad for the ascender, which was ejected from the orbiter after transferring the samples and came to rest on the moon’s surface.
The spacecraft’s return will mark the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 robot probe in 1976.
Chang’e 5 blasted off from a launch base in China's southern island province of Hainan on Nov. 23 on a mission expected to last 23 days.
It marks China’s third successful lunar landing but the only one to lift off again from the moon. Its predecessor, Chang’e 4, became the first probe to land on the moon’s little-explored far side and continues to send back data on conditions that could affect a future extended stay by humans on the moon.