By Feng Hua
In the early hours of Dec. 17, the return capsule of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe returned to Earth with samples collected from the moon, marking a complete success of China’s Chang’e-5 mission, said an official with the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
Chang’e-5 is one of the most complex and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history, and brought back the country’s first-ever soil samples from an extraterrestrial body, said Wu Yanhua, vice administrator of the CNSA and deputy chief commander of the China Lunar Exploration Program, at a press conference on the Chang’e 5 mission.
On Nov. 24, a Long March-5 rocket carrying the Chang’e-5 probe blasted off from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in south China’s Hainan province.
After two orbital corrections, Chang’e-5 probe decelerated and entered the lunar orbit on Nov. 28.
The lander-ascender combination of the probe separated from the orbiter-returner combination, and successfully landed on the near side of the moon and started sampling on Dec. 1.
After grabbing samples, the ascender of Chang’e-5 took off from the lunar surface and entered the preset lunar orbit on Dec. 3. Later, it rendezvoused and docked with the orbiter-returner combination in lunar orbit, and transferred the samples to the returner.
After conducting orbital maneuver twice, the orbiter-returner entered the moon-Earth transfer orbit.
Then on Dec. 17, the returner of Chang’e-5 probe separated from the orbiter and returned to Earth, bringing the mission to the scientific research stage.
In its 23-day journey, Chang’e-5 probe accomplished one docking and six separations, adopted two methods of moon sampling, and carried out five transfers of samples. A total of 11 major stages and key procedures were involved in the mission.
The milestone mission has accomplished several firsts for China, including the first moon sampling, the first liftoff from an extraterrestrial body, the first rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, the first spacecraft carrying samples to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere at high speed, as well as the first storage, analysis and research system of moon samples.
The success of Chang’e-5 mission is a new milestone in the development of China’s space industry, proving that China has mastered the technology for shuttling between Earth and the moon, Wu said.
It marks a successful conclusion of China’s current three-step lunar exploration program of orbiting, landing and bringing back samples, and has laid a solid foundation for China’s future lunar and planetary exploration, he added.
In the Chang’e-5 mission, China coordinated and cooperated with countries and international organizations including the European Space Agency, Argentina, Namibia, and Pakistan in space tracking and control.
The country also invited foreign diplomats and officials of international organizations to watch the launch of Chang’e-5 spacecraft at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
Leaders of some countries, heads of foreign space agencies and some international organizations, as well as many international space practitioners and friends, have congratulated China on and praised the country for the successful mission, and expressed wishes for further cooperation.
China will solicit cooperation proposals extensively in accordance with the regulations on the management of lunar samples and data, and invite more scientists around the world to join in moon research in a bid to achieve more scientific results, according to Wu.
Following the success of Chang’e-5 lunar mission, China will continue implementing the fourth phase of its lunar exploration program and the planetary exploration program, according to Wu.
As China is about to enter the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025), Wu also introduced the major aerospace tasks China will carry out during the next five years and even a longer period of time.
Wu noted that the fourth phase of the country’s lunar exploration program mainly includes four tasks: Chang’e-4 landing on the moon’s far side for roving exploration, Chang’e 6 to perform China’s second sample return mission, as well as Chang’e-7 and -8 missions.
China is willing to cooperate with relevant countries and international organizations to deliberate on the basic capabilities for the initial construction of a lunar research station and test key technologies.
The country’s plan for planetary exploration has also become basically clear. On July 23, Tianwen-1, China’s first Mars exploration mission, was launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
Tianwen-1 Mars probe has traveled about 370 million kilometers in space and reached more than 100 million kilometers away from Earth.
The probe is scheduled to reach the “Red Planet” in mid-February, 2021. Later in mid-May, it will land on the planet and carry out roving exploration.
China has also planned three planetary exploration missions for the near future, including an exploration and sampling mission to asteroids, a sample-retrieval mission to Mars, as well as an exploration mission to the Jupiter system.
In terms of manned space flight, Wu said a total of 11 missions to build China’s space station are planned for the next two years.
The country will make full use of the technologies of its new-generation launch vehicles such as Long March-5, 6 and 7, improve its non-toxic and pollution-free new-generation carrier rockets, and ensure that the launch vehicles can be serialized to meet the demands of launch missions concerning various orbits and spacecrafts with different weights.
The country is also tackling the bottlenecks of key technologies related to the development of heavy-lift launch vehicles, and conducting iterative optimization on development plans.
Wu pointed out that China will keep advancing the national civil space infrastructure in the next five years, providing strong support and guarantee for various fields of the national economy.
As an important part of the country’s strategic emerging industries, the civil space infrastructure will also bring better products and services to the production and life of people.