China’s moon mission milestone

Katie Ramirez
January 31, 2021

For decades, planetary geologists have studied tiny chunks of lunar rock to unravel the Moon's mysteries.

But nobody has collected any new Moon rocks for more than 40 years.

SHANGHAI, CHINA - NOVEMBER 05: (CHINA OUT) A model of the Chang'e-3 lunar rover is on display during the China International Industry Fair 2013 at Shanghai New International Expo Centre on November 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China. The launch took place at 04:30 local time on Tuesday (20:30 GMT on Monday).

"The Chang'e 5 sample return mission is of course more complicated and hard than all previous Chinese lunar missions, as it not only needs to take off from the lunar surface and to re-enter the Earth atmosphere in higher speed, but also to perform lunar orbit rendezvous and docking operations in lunar orbit", Chen told AFP.

Peng Jing, the deputy chief designer of the Chinese moon probe, said Chang'e-5 could be considered a "milestone mission".

"They're going to move the ball down the field in a big way with respect to understanding a lot of things that are important about lunar history".

"Chang'e 5 will collect samples from a different region of the Moon which makes it very valuable", Frédéric Moynier of the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris told RFI. "I think future exploration activities on the moon are most likely to be carried out in a human-machine combination". The orbiter, as its name suggests, is created to remain in orbit. The landing site for the mission has been selected near the Mons Rümker, an isolated volcanic formation in the lava plain.

China’s moon mission milestone

The mission is expected to last around 23 days, during which time it will collect around two kilograms of samples by both scooping up surface material with a mechanical arm and by drilling through the regolith up to a depth of two metres. It can't stick around during the Moon's harsh night-time because extremely cold conditions could damage the spacecraft's electronics.

Up to two kilograms of samples can be stowed on the ascent vehicle, which is due to blast off from the lunar surface in early December, make a rendezvous with the orbiter and transfer the material to the re-entry capsule.

After the delicate, multi-step manoeuvre is complete, the orbiter is slated to remain in orbit for six days before beginning its journey back to Earth. The capsule is created to weather atmospheric re-entry and make a parachute-aided touchdown in the deserts of Inner Mongolia. The area may contain geological units of basaltic rock as young as around 1.21 billion years old. This is because it lacks heating equipment to operate for long periods in the moon's freezing environment.

The rocks could also help scientists determine the age of regions on other planets, like Mars.

In order to keep the samples intact, researchers must find a flawless return route, and the returner's heat-resistant design also presents a tough challenge. Zhang worked on lunar samples obtained by the Apollo missions until 2011, when the U.S. Congress barred NASA from engaging in bilateral collaboration with the Chinese government or its state-affiliated organizations.

China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russian Federation, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have had decades of experience in space exploration.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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