China launches Chang’e-5 lunar probe to recover lunar rocks

China launches Chang’e-5 lunar probe to recover lunar rocks

China on Tuesday launched an unmanned spacecraft to bring back lunar rocks, the first attempt by any nation to retrieve samples from the Moon in four decades.

A March 5 long rocket carrying the Chang’e-5 The probe, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, lifted off from the Wenchang Space Center in the southern province of Hainan Island at 4:30 a.m. (2 a.m. Tuesday), the official Xinhua news agency reported .

Beijing is investing billions in its military-led space program, hoping to have a manned space station by 2022 and eventually send humans to the Moon.

The objective of the mission is to remove lunar rocks and soil to help scientists learn about the origins, formation and volcanic activity of the Moon on its surface.

State television footage of the launch showed the rocket blasting off into a dark night, with huge clouds of smoke billowing below.

Crowds watched the launch from the beach on the tropical island of China, holding mobile phones up to film as the rocket flew into the sky.

The original mission, planned for 2017, was delayed due to a Long March 5 rocket motor failure.

If successful, China will be only the third country to have recovered samples from the Moon, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Chinese probe will collect two kilograms (4.5 pounds) of surface material in a previously unexplored area known as Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms,” ​​which consists of a vast plain of lava, according to the scientific journal Nature.

The probe is expected to land in late November and collect material during one lunar day, equivalent to around 14 Earth days.

The samples will then be returned to Earth in a capsule scheduled to land in the Inner Mongolia region of northern China in early December, according to the US space agency.

The moon moves
The mission is technically challenging and involves several innovations that had not been seen during previous attempts to collect lunar rocks, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“The United States never did a robotic return of samples. The Soviet one was very limited and could only land in certain restricted places,” McDowell told AFP.

“China’s system will be the most flexible and capable robotic sample return system ever.”

A Chinese lunar rover landed on the opposite side of the Moon in January 2019, in a world first that fueled Beijing’s ambitions to become a space superpower.

It was the second Chinese probe to land on the Moon, after the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rover mission in 2013.

Chen Lan, an independent analyst at GoTaikonauts, which specializes in China’s space program, said the latest launch was an opportunity for China to develop technology that would be used in a future manned space landing, describing it as “one of the most risky launched by China. ”

“The Chang’e 5 sample return mission is, of course, more complicated and difficult than all previous Chinese lunar missions, as it not only needs to take off from the lunar surface and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at higher speeds. , but also conduct lunar-orbiting rendezvous and docking operations in lunar orbit, “Chen told AFP.

The latest Chang’e-5 probe is among a series of ambitious goals set by Beijing, including creating a super-powerful rocket capable of delivering heavier payloads than those of NASA and the private rocket company. Spacex can handle a moon base, a permanently manned space station and a Mars homeless.

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