EPSC 2021: Exotic Mix in China’s Delivery of Moon Rocks

Panoramic image taken after sampling of the lunar surface by Chang’e-5. The four dark trenches in the lower right corner of this image are where samples were collected. Abundant centimetre-sized boulders exist on the surface around the Chang’e-5 landing site. [Credit: CNSA (China National Space Administration) / CLEP (China Lunar Exploration Program) / GRAS (Ground Research Application System)]

STRASBOURG, France (Europlanet Society PR) — On 16 December 2020 the Chang’e-5 mission, China’s first sample return mission to the Moon, successfully delivered to Earth nearly two kilograms of rocky fragments and dust from our celestial companion.  

Chang’e-5 landed on an area of the Moon not sampled by the NASA Apollo or the Soviet Luna missions nearly 50 years ago, and thus retrieved fragments of the youngest lunar rocks ever brought back for analysis in laboratories on Earth. The rocks are also different to those returned decades ago. Early-stage findings, which use geological mapping to link ‘exotic’ fragments in the collected samples to features near the landing site, have been presented by Mr Yuqi Qian, a PhD student at the China University of Geosciences, at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021 virtual meeting.

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Launch 2020: China’s Space Program Continued to Surge with a Number of Firsts

Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Group)

China’s surging space program showed no sign of slowing down last year as it tied its own launch record and moved ahead with ambitious space missions and a set of new launchers.

China compiled a record of 35 successes and four failures in 2020. That matched the number of launch attempts made in 2018, a year that saw 38 successes and a single failure.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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Chang’e-5 Orbiter Enters Sun-Earth Lagrange Point

The PolyU-developed system successfully completed the automatic sample collection and packaging on the lunar surface, and is currently on the journey back to Earth. (Credit: Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — The Chang’e-5 orbiter has entered a periodic orbit near the Sun-Earth L1 point, achieving the first-stage expansion mission goal and becoming my country’s first spacecraft to enter the Sun-Earth L1 periodic orbit. At present, the whole machine has stable attitude, balanced energy, and normal working conditions. It runs for about 6 months in this orbit.

The Chang’e-5 orbiter separated from the returner on December 17, 2020. After being transferred to the long-term management stage on December 21, it carried out two orbital maneuvers and two midway corrections. After 88 days of flight, it was At 13:29 on the 15th, it successfully entered the periodic orbit near the sun-earth L1 point and carried out follow-up missions.

The full name of “solar-earth L1 point” is “solar-earth Lagrangian L1 point”, which is located between the line of the sun and the earth, about 1.5 million kilometers away from the earth. At the “sun-earth L1 point”, the relative position of the object relative to the sun and the earth remains basically unchanged. 

There are periodic orbits and quasi-periodic orbits near the Lagrangian point. In theory, spacecraft can move along these orbits and observe the sun or the sun-facing surface of the earth without interruption.

Chang’e-5 Collected 1.7 kg of Lunar Materials

Chang’e-5 sample container. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — On the morning of December 19, the National Space Administration held a lunar sample handover ceremony for the lunar exploration project Chang’e 5 mission in Beijing. Together with some participating units, they witnessed the handover of the samples to the mission ground application system, marking that the Chang’e 5 mission was completed The implementation phase has officially shifted to a new stage of scientific research, which kicked off our country’s first extraterrestrial celestial body sample storage, analysis and research work.

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Chang’e-5 Lunar Sample Lands in China

Chang’e-5 capsule after landing under parachute in Inner Mongolia.

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — At 1:59 on December 17, Beijing time, the lunar exploration project Chang’e-5 returner successfully landed in the planned area of ​​Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia, marking the successful completion of our country’s first extraterrestrial celestial body sampling and return mission.

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Chang’e-5 Return Vehicle on Way Back to Earth

Box indicates Chang’e 5 lander on the basaltic plains of Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) on 02 December 2020 09:54 EST (14:53:55 UTC). The lander is the bright spot in the center of the outline. The areas around the lander has been brightened due to the descent engine plume impingement on the surface (similar to what has been observed at other landing sites). Outline is 1210 meters wide; north is up. LROC NAC M1361560086R [Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

China’s Chang’e-5 is on its way back to Earth with precious samples of lunar regolith heading for a landing in Inner Mongolia later this week.

Chang’e-5’s orbiter and return capsule entered lunar-Earth transfer orbit on Sunday after a 22-minute burn of its engine. The vehicles made a mid-course correction with a 28-second burn on Monday.

The return capsule is carrying about 2.2 kg (4.4 lb) of lunar regolith obtained on the moon’s Ocean of Storms. This is China’s first attempt to return samples from another world.

PolyU-made Space Instruments Complete Lunar Sampling for Chang’e 5

Professor YUNG Kai-leung (right) and Dr Robert TAM have developed valuable experience from participating in several lunar exploration projects of the Nation. (Credit: Hong Kong Polytechnic University)

HONG KONG, 8 December 2020 (PolyU PR) — In support of the Nation’s first lunar sample return mission, a research team at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) developed and manufactured one of the key systems for this historic undertaking, namely the “Surface Sampling and Packing System”, in collaboration with the China Academy of Space Technology.

The PolyU-developed system accomplished the tasks of automatic sample collection and packaging on the lunar surface following the soft landing of the Chang’e 5 probe on 1 December 2020. The vehicle carrying the samples is currently on course back to Earth, and is expected to touch down in China’s Inner Mongolia region next week.

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Video: Chang’e-5 Orbiter-Sample Return Vehicle Separates from Ascender

Video Caption: Having completed its mission, Chang’e-5’s ascender separated from the orbiter-sample return vehicle. According to Gao Lei(CNSA official), the orbiter-returner will orbit the Moon for about six to seven days, then enter the Earth-Moon transfer orbit, and experience another three to four days of flight before returning to Earth”. For the rendezvous and docking operations Chang’e-5 used a microwave radar. After docking, the lunar samples were transferred from the ascender to the sample return vehicle.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)

Video: Chang’e-5 Ascender Docks with Orbiter-Return Vehicle

Video Caption: The Chang’e-5 ascender automatically docked with the orbiter-sample return vehicle on 5 December 2020, at 21:42 UTC (6 December, at 05:42 China Standard Time).

At 22:12 UTC (6 December, 06:12 CST), the sample container, containing the soil collected from the Moon, was transferred from the ascender to the sample return vehicle.

Chang’e-5 will orbit the Moon for a few days, waiting for adequate window to return to Earth.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)

Chang’e-5 Ascender Lifts Off From Moon with Soil Samples

Chang’e-5’s ascender has lifted off from the moon on its way to an rendezvous with an orbital vehicle that will transport its lunar soil samples back to Earth.

Chinese media are reporting the ascender successfully reached orbit after lifting off from the Ocean of Storms. It is expected to rendezvous and dock with the orbiter-return vehicle on Saturday.

The ascender will transfer its samples to the return vehicle, which is scheduled to land under parachute in China’s Inner Mongolia on Dec. 16.

Chang’e-5’s lander collected soil from the surface using a drill and a robotic arm with a scoop. The goal was to collect at least 2 kg (4.4 lb) of soil.

If successful, China will become only the third nation to return samples from the moon after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Chang’e-5’s liftoff was the first from the lunar surface since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. And it was the first vehicle to enter lunar orbit after lifting off from the surface since the U.S. Apollo 17 manned mission in December 1972.

Chang’e-5 Collects Lunar Soil Sample

After landing on the moon’s Ocean of Storms on Tuesday, China’s Chang’e-5 lander got right to work collecting soil samples that will be returned to Earth.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) reports that lander drilled into the lunar surface, extracted a sample, and sealed it up in a container. Chinese media report the hole was 2 meters (6.5 ft) deep.

Chang’e-5 will also collect samples using a robotic arm and scoop. The lander is expected to collect 2 kg (4.4 lb) of soil.

Once sample collection is completed, an ascender will lift off from the moon for a rendezvous and docking with the Chang’e-5 spacecraft in lunar orbit. Launch from the lunar surface could come on Thursday.

The soil samples will be transferred to a sample return vehicle which will travel back to Earth for a parachute landing in China some time in mid-December.

If successful, China will become only the third nation after the United States and the Soviet Union to return samples from the lunar surface.

Chang’e-5 to Collect Lunar Samples Over 2 Days

Image taken by the landing camera of the Chang’e-5 probe after a soft landing (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — At 23:11 on December 1, the Chang’e-5 probe successfully landed on the pre-selected landing area on the nearside of the moon at 51.8 degrees west longitude and 43.1 degrees north latitude, and returned the landing image.

At 22:57 on December 1, the combination of Chang’e-5 lander and ascender began to perform a power drop from about 15 kilometers away from the moon surface. The 7,500 N variable thrust engine was turned on, and the relative speed of the probe relative to the moon was gradually increased from about 1.7 km/sec. 

During this period, the probe made rapid attitude adjustments and gradually approached the moon surface. After that, automatic obstacle detection was carried out. After the landing site was selected, the obstacle avoidance and slow vertical descent began, and the land steadily landed in the area north of the Rumker Mountain in the Ocean of Storms. During the landing, the landing camera equipped with the lander took an image of the landing area.

After the successful landing, the lander under ground control has carried out inspection and setup work, such as the deployment of the solar wing and the directional antenna, and will officially start the lunar surface work lasting about 2 days to collect lunar samples.

Chang’e-5 Lander Separates, Touchdown Expected in Next Few Days

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — On November 30, the flight control team of the Chang’e-5 mission of the lunar exploration project implemented the separation of the lander and ascender assembly of the Chang’e-5 probe from the orbiter and returner assembly as planned. At 4:40 in the morning, under the precise control of scientific and technical personnel, the Chang’e-5 detector assembly separated smoothly. 

Up to now, the detector systems are in good condition, and the ground measurement and control communication is normal. The orbiter and returner assembly will continue to fly on the lunar orbit with an average altitude of about 200 kilometers and wait for the ascender to rendezvous and dock, and the lander and ascender assembly.

The opportunity will be chosen to implement a soft landing on the lunar surface, and follow-up work such as automatic sampling.

China’s Chang’e-5 Spacecraft Enters Lunar Orbit

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — At 20:58 on November 28, Beijing time, the Chang’e-5 probe flew to the moon for about 112 hours and successfully ignited a 3000 N engine at a distance of about 400 kilometers from the lunar surface. About 17 minutes later, the engine shut down normally. According to real-time telemetry data monitoring and judgment, the Chang’e-5 probe braked normally in the recent month and entered the orbit around the moon smoothly.

Near-moon braking is one of the key orbital controls during the flight of the lunar probe. When the high-speed probe approaches the moon, it will apply “brake” braking, in order to make its relative speed lower than the moon’s escape speed, and thus be captured by the moon’s gravity.

The Chang’e-5 probe underwent two orbit corrections during the Earth-Moon transfer process and achieved the expected goal. In the future, the Chang’e-5 probe will adjust the height and inclination of the orbit around the moon, the lander and ascender assembly will be separated from the orbiter and returner assembly, implement the lunar frontal soft landing, and carry out the lunar surface automatic sampling as planned. .