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China Launches Chang’e-5 Lunar Sample Return Mission

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
November 23, 2020
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Long March 5 launches the Chang’e-5 mission to the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

BEIJING (CNSA PR) — At 4:30 on November 24th, China used the Long March 5 carrier rocket to successfully launch the lunar exploration project Chang’e-5 probe at the Wenchang Space Launch Site in China.

After the rocket flew for about 2,200 seconds, the probe was successfully sent into the scheduled trajectory, starting China’s first return journey from sampling of extraterrestrial objects.

After the Long March 5 carrier rocket was launched into space, it carried out four separations, including booster separation, fairing separation, primary and secondary separation, and rocket separation. 

The Chang’e-5 probe consists of four parts: the orbiter, the returner, the lander, and the ascender. After the earth-moon transfer, near-moon braking, and circumlunar flight, the lander and ascender combination will be combined with the orbiter and return.

The orbiter assembly is separated, the orbiter carries the returner to stay in orbit, the lander carries the ascender to choose an opportunity to perform a soft landing on the lunar front preselected area, and carry out follow-up work such as automatic lunar surface sampling as planned.

The Chang’e-5 mission plans to achieve three major engineering goals:

  • First, to break through key technologies such as narrow window multi-orbit binding launch, automatic lunar surface sampling and packaging, lunar surface takeoff, lunar orbital rendezvous and docking, and lunar sample storage, and improve China’s aerospace technology level;
  • the second is to realize China’s first automatic sampling and return of extraterrestrial celestial bodies, and to promote major progress in science and technology in China;
  • the third is to improve the lunar exploration engineering system to accumulate important talents, technology and material foundations for China’s future manned lunar landing and deep space exploration.

The scientific objectives of the Chang’e-5 mission are mainly to carry out the survey of the topography of the landing site area and the survey of the geological background, obtain on-site analysis data related to lunar samples, and establish the connection between on-site exploration data and laboratory analysis data; systemize lunar samples.

Long-term laboratory research to analyze the structure, physical properties, and material composition of the lunar soil, and deepen the research on the origin and evolution of the moon.

The Chang’e-5 mission is organized and implemented by the National Space Administration, and is specifically composed of five major systems including the overall project and detectors, launch vehicles, launch sites, measurement and control and recovery, and ground applications. 

The National Space Administration’s Lunar Exploration and Aerospace Engineering Center is the overall engineering unit. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology affiliated to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation is responsible for the development of carrier rocket systems, and the China Academy of Space Technology is responsible for the development of detector systems. 

The Ministry of Satellite Launch, Measurement and Control System of China is responsible for organizing launch, measurement and control and recovery. 

The National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences is responsible for the research and development of ground application systems and is responsible for the reception, processing, and storage management of scientific data and samples.

The China Lunar Exploration Project is a major national science and technology special landmark project defined in the “National Medium and Long-term Science and Technology Development Plan (2006-2020)”. A major strategic decision made by scientific and technological progress and innovation, and improvement of comprehensive national strength.

Since the project was established and officially launched in January 2004, it has successively successfully implemented Chang’e 1, Chang’e 2, Chang’e 3, reentry flight test and Chang’e 4.

This launch was the 353rd launch of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

7 responses to “China Launches Chang’e-5 Lunar Sample Return Mission”

  1. savuporo says:

    Ambitious engineering mission, best of luck

    Note: That would be a third active Chinese lander on lunar surface if it goes well. Chang’e-3 is still alive, along with Chang’e-4 of course

  2. Saturn1300 says:

    American space program aspiring to launch crewed missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.”
    From Statement From Rep. Frank Lucas on the China launch. What is this destination beyond? When will we be able to launch?

    • Kenneth_Brown says:

      Mars is the problem. It’s a big distraction to a manned lunar mission. Politicians (failed lawyers) get excited about sending people to Mars as they’ve seen how JFK got a huge boost with the Apollo mission. Since he died before the public got bored with watching people bounce around on the moon, it’s hard to say if there would have been political backlash on President Kennedy when the cost figures started coming out.

      Apollo just barely scratched the surface with regards to human’s health in a reduced G environment. It’s already well known how bad 0G is for the body, now we need to know if even 1/6G is an improvement. There are commercial possibilities on/in the moon whereas Mars is so far away that nobody has come up with a plan that has any hope of an ROI. It’s an easier sell if NASA is paving the way to something with long term returns. Don’t get me wrong, putting people on Mars would be very cool. Having them die there or in transit would be a nightmare. It might wind up only being viable to send people when nuclear propulsion is perfected and trips can be much shorter and under acceleration nearly the whole way.

      China may be the only country with a working plan for human lunar, and eventually Mars, exploration. There is an advantage to going it alone. There isn’t the back and forth compromises to get things done.

      • duheagle says:

        If one’s thinking is constrained strictly to the activities of NASA or any other government space agency, then there is certainly a basis for the zero-sum-game-based criticism of work toward human presence on Mars as being a “distraction” from manned missions to the Moon.

        Fortunately, there is SpaceX, which seems increasingly likely to be the key actor anent human missions to both the Moon and Mars.

        I agree with you that there are considerable commercial opportunities on the Moon. SpaceX will enable these to be realized and may well also be their main implementer and beneficiary.

        The same will be true of Mars, though any significant Earthside ROI may be a long time in coming. Elon Musk wants to settle Mars for non-pecuniary reasons. But he also expects, I think, that a local economy will be established there and that it will grow itself once established. I think he’s right about that.

        That is, in fact, likely to be true of the lunar economy too. 16th and 17th century European colonies in the Americas were often established on the basis of expected home-country profit from colonial exports, but the more successful such colonies quickly grew economies in which local growth quickly outpaced the growth of exports – the U.S. being a notable example.

        With private enterprise leading the way, it will be perfectly feasible to “walk and chew gum at the same time” anent settlement of both the Moon and Mars.

        You have, though, I think entirely too naive a view of Chinese efforts toward settlement of space. China’s national efforts to do such are constrained in the same way NASA’s are. Government projects are always constrained by “back and forth compromise” – to borrow your phrase – with other projects of the same government. That applies at least as strongly in China as it does here because so much more of what goes on in China are projects of its government. With the economic and demographic challenges now buffeting China, it will, I think, become increasingly difficult for that nation to mount significant actual efforts at human settlement of space.

        • Kenneth_Brown says:

          Also be suspicious of the stranger bearing gifts. Elon “says” he wants to put people on Mars for non-pecuniary reasons. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

          NASA’s job in my eyes is to pave the way to something like a lunar colony by doing the science and solving some of the toughest problems. They don’t have stockholders aside from the US taxpayers and are expected to advance the state of science, not show a profit. SpaceX is a for-profit corporation that’s been raising more money several times a year for quite some time. Those investors will want to see a return at some point or at least be able to flog off their position to somebody else at a profit. This makes me think there is Elon’s public statements and also some hidden agenda to turn a big profit that investors are let in on.

          China isn’t having to negotiate with international partners is what I meant to get across. All the talk about a US Mars endeavor includes the participation of other countries. All of the politicians in each country aren’t as interested in the mission as much as how many jobs their part may generate that they can point to the next time they are up for reelection. The bickering is about the number of those jobs. You see the same thing in the US between state representatives/senators. China is much better at long term thinking. The most that the US can do is the time between two elections (4years). Everybody I know at NASA is very aware of that. Big projects are never pitched mid term.

          • duheagle says:

            Elon isn’t “bearing gifts.” Just because his basic Mars motivation isn’t pecuniary doesn’t mean he’s planning to lose money on the project or would pass up opportunities to turn a profit. Colonists, at a minimum, will need money to pay their way to Mars just as did people joining Oregon-bound wagon trains in pre-Civil War Jefferson City, MO.

            Viewing NASA as primarily a science agency is simply false to fact. Science has never accounted for anything close to a majority of NASA’s budget. Like NACA before it, NASA was mainly an engineering development organization for its first two decades or so. After that, even advancing engineering took a backseat to simply operating what had already been engineered – mainly Shuttle and ISS. The engineering advancement torch has long since passed to NewSpace companies.

            SpaceX’s investors, especially the earliest ones, have already seen a huge appreciation in the value of their holdings. There already exist plenty of ways for SpaceX’s investors to use the value of their holdings in ways that don’t require their sale. This is true without regard to whether SpaceX is a private or publicly traded company. There’s no “hidden agenda” because there is utterly no need for one.

            The limitations on what NASA can do are almost entirely a function of domestic U.S. politics. The involvement of foreign partners in any program serves mainly to make it more difficult for NASA and the Congress to summarily end such programs. International involvement in NASA programs is, without exception, ancillary to core U.S. initiatives.

            The same is true of China, which also has some ancillary involvement in its program on the part of other nations and is seeking more mostly for prestige reasons.

            In Soviet times, the same was true of the USSR. Since the USSR imploded, though, Russia has ceased to be a consequential instigator of space projects and fallen to ancillary status anent both U.S. and Chinese projects. The USSR’s former place as a consequential space self-starter has been taken by India.

            The preposterous but widely credited bit of conventional wisdom to the effect that China is “much better at long-term thinking,” as you put it, is an obvious canard. All the evidence one needs to support this view is the entirely unforced, and near four-decade-long, self-inflicted error that was the One Child Policy. Not what you’d call a lot of superior long-term thinking on display there.

    • duheagle says:

      “And beyond” looks like pretty much just a rhetorical flourish.

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