China’s Chang’e 5 Mission has recently managed to successfully land on the lunar near-side in yet another historical success for the Chinese Space Agency. This specific mission, unlike Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4—on the far side of the Moon—has a specific goal to drill the lunar surface, collect lunar materials and then launch into orbit, returning the material collected from the Moon back to Earth for analysis.
According to reports, the mission is a success. As revealed by Chinese news outlets, the probe has completed collecting lunar samples, which have already been placed and sealed on the spacecraft.
The spacecraft was launched on November 24 and landed on December 1 in the northern Mons Rumker region of the Procellarum basin, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the Moon.
The sample return mission—if successful (it still has to return to Earth)—will mark the first time mankind has gone to the Moon, collected samples, and returned them to Earth since 1976, when Luna 24, a robotic probe of the Soviet Union’s Luna program, returned samples back to Earth.
Chang’e 5 aims to return as many as two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar soil and rocks to Earth.
According to the Chinese Space Agency, the spacecraft worked on the lunar surface for 19 hours during which it successfully drilled into the Moon, collected samples, and safely stored them away.
The sampling ended at 14:00 UTC on December 2, and the lunar material was stored in a container inside the probe’s ascent module, as planned, according to reports.
Using the data sent back by the probe, the researchers simulated the sampling procedure in a laboratory, which provided an important basis for the operation on the Moon.
Collecting lunar samples was not the only goal of Chang’e 5. A series of scientific instruments installed on the lander carried out various scientific explorations, providing insight and supporting information for the drilling process.
The Chang’e 5 lander withstood temperatures of more than 100 degrees Celsius on the lunar surface. The mission has adopted two lunar sampling methods, including using drills to collect items from the subsurface and taking samples at the surface with a robotic arm.
Various samples have been collected at different sites. The lunar samples have been sealed inside the spacecraft to ensure that they are kept in a vacuum and free from the influence of the external environment during their return to Earth.
Among its various instruments, Chang’e 5 features a landing camera, panoramic camera, a lunar ground-penetrating radar, as well as a lunar mineralogical spectrometer, which analyzes the satellite’s surface topography and mineral composition, as well as the surface structure of the subsoil.
Before the drilling process for sampling, the lunar ground-penetrating radar analyzed the subsurface structure in the area, providing baseline data for the procedure.
The entire Chang’e 5 mission consists of a service module, a lunar lander, lunar ascender, and a sample return vehicle.
Now that the surface materials gathered by the lander have been safely tucked away, they will be attached to the ascent vehicle that will take them into lunar orbit.
Then, the ascent vehicle is expected to rendezvous and dock with the lunar orbiter, which will transfer the samples into a return-capsule that will then make its way to Earth.
Just before the return-capsule reaches the orbit around Earth, it is expected to be released; if all goes to plan, the reentry capsule will perform a “skip reentry” in order to bounce off the atmosphere before finally reentering and Alan ding on Earth where it will be recovered by scientists.
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