In another flagship space mission for China, the nation’s space agency has successfully launched the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket carrying the spacecraft of the Chang’e 5 mission to the moon at around 3:35 p.m. EST (2035 GMT) from the Wenchang space center on Hainan Island, China.
The Chang’e 5 mission is the most important and ambitious mission of all Chang’e missions that is planned to attempt to land on the moon, drill samples from beneath the lunar surface and return the material to Earth.
The space agency has not released the extact timeline of the mission, but it has been reported that the lander is expected to make the landing near Mons Rümker, a volcanic formation that is extended over 4,000 feet abouve the surrounding lava plains located in the Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, region in the northern hemisphere of the near side of the moon.
After landing, Chang’e 5 will extract up to 2 kilograms of material from a depth of up to 2 meters below the lunar surface. Then the specimens will launch back into the lunar orbit aboard a small rocket attached to a return craft that will head to the Earth.
The return craft will re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at about 40,000 kilometers per hour and will land around December 15th in China’s Inner Mongolia region from where the teams will retrieve the moon specimens and transport the material to a lab for analysis.
If successful, it will be the first time lunar material has been returned to the Earth since 1976 when the USSR’s robotic Luna 24 mission brought back around 170 grams of specimens from the lunar surface. A total of nine missions have returned specimens from the Lunar Surface to Earth including NASA’s six Apollo missions with astronauts, and three robotic Luna spacecraft launched by the Soviet Union.
China has successfully dispatched four robotic explorers to the Moon, starting with Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiters in 2007 and 2010. In 2013, China successfully landed and deployed a mobile rover on the lunar surface.
In January 2019, China successfully landed and deployed a rover on the far side of the moon making it the first nation to achieve this milestone. As of writing this Chang’e 4’s rover continues its opeartions on the luar surface and sends imagery and scientific data through a dedicated relay satellite China placed in a position beyond far side of the moon to transmit signals between Earth and the Chang’e 4 spacecraft.
If Chang’e 5 mission fails to complete as planned, China has prepared Chang’e 6 mission for another attempt and if it goes as planned Chang’e 6 will attempt to land and return sample from the far side of the moon.
In future missions China is also planning to deploy a robotic station on the moon’s south pole before a possible landing on the moon with Chinese astronauts in the 2030s.