An unmanned Chinese space capsule – Chang’e 5 mission has returned back to Earth with lunar rock samples for the first time in the history of China. Chang’e 5 space capsule landed in northern China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region, with 2 kilograms of samples of lunar rock and dust. The landing took place on Thursday, December 17, at 1:59 am local time, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
China, now, is the only third country to have achieved this feat after the USA and the Soviet Union. The very first samples of moon rocks were delivered to Earth by the American spaceflight – Apollo 11 in 1969. Later, in 1976, Luna 24 – the Soviet Union’s spacecraft conducted a similar venture successfully.
China’s largest and most advanced lunar probe – Chang’e consisted of an orbiter, lander, ascender and re-entry capsule as the main components.
The mission, which took 23 days to complete, began on November 24. The spacecraft was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket at Wenchang Space Launch Center in South China’s Hainan province.
On November 30, while the probe was in lunar orbit, it divided into two parts – the orbiter-reentry capsule combination and the lander-ascender combination. The lander-ascender combination landed on the moon on a site located on an isolated volcanic plane near Mons Rümker – an area which had never been visited before the mission.
The combination used a drill to collect 500 grams of underground samples and then used a mechanical arm to obtain 1.5 kg of surface dust. Samples were stored into a vacuum container.
The national flag of China was also planted for the first time on the moon making it the only second flag to be planted on the moon after the US flag.
On December 3, the ascender lifted itself into an elliptical lunar orbit and docked with the orbiting combination on December 6. The samples were transferred into the re-entry capsule before the ascender separated from the combination. After travelling in a near-circular lunar orbit for almost 6 days, the probe made two orbital injection operations and entered a moon-Earth transfer trajectory to begin the return journey to the Earth. The lunar samples were finally delivered to China on December 17.
According to CNSA, the samples will be transferred to specially designed laboratories for analysis, experiments and tests to examine and determine extraterrestrial substances’ composition, structure and traits. The lunar rock sample is expected to reveal new information and deepen the knowledge about the history of the moon and the solar system.
Congratulating the mission, the Chinese President Xi Jinping said that this remarkable feat will always be remembered by the country and people. Furthermore, he urged the industry to make China a great space power as soon as possible.
Despite being a short mission of little more than 3 weeks, Chang’e 5 mission is one of the most challenging projects and so far the most successful mission in China’s aerospace history. And the country is not stopping here. A new ambitious project, Chang’e 6 mission has already been announced to launch in the near future, in 2023 or 2024, to fetch a second sample from the moon. Looks like China is very keen to unsolve the lunar mystery and establish itself as the aerospace powerhouse after a huge success with the economy.