China’s Chang’e 5 lander touched down on the moon and collected the first lunar samples. It’s more than 40 years since the American Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought their samples home.
The ascent vehicle carried the samples collected by the lander’s drill and robotic arm and delivered them to the Chang’e orbiter circling the moon. Cameras on the lander captured the ascent vehicle’s takeoff, which started with a spring mechanism before ignition of the ascender’s 3,000 Newton engine.
The Chang’e-5 probe, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, was launched on November 24, and its lander-ascender combination touched down on the north of the Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on December 1.
The Chinese mission targeted a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker in the northwest of the nearside of the Moon.
The lander managed to send the data to Earth but has not been carrying out activities since. Amateur radio trackers have also not detected any signals from the lander since the ascent vehicle’s takeoff.
The apparent loss of the spacecraft is neither a shock nor an unplanned failure. China’s engineers and scientists expecting the lander to incur damage during the dangerous ascent launch. The lander had carried out its objectives and played its full role in the complex 23-day mission.
As well as collecting around 4.4 lb. (2 kilograms) of samples, the lander conducted experiments with a ground-penetrating radar, which will provide information about layers beneath the landing site. An imaging spectrometer analyzed the composition of the surface regolith while a panoramic camera provided brilliant, detailed vistas from Oceanus Procellarum each made by stitching together 120 photos.
Samples from this terrain may be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old, and, as such, should provide additional information on how the Moon is constructed internally.
Chang’e 5 return to Earth
The Chang’e 5 orbiter began its journey back to Earth on Dec. 12, taking with it a reentry capsule containing the collected lunar samples. Touchdown on Earth is expected around Dec. 17.
An ascent vehicle subsequently carried the materials back into lunar orbit where they were transferred to an Earth-return module. Returning from the Moon, the Chang’e-5 module would have been moving much faster than, say, a capsule coming back from the International Space Station.
The Chang’e-5 capsule was targeted to float down on parachute to Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia. This is the same location used to bring Chinese astronauts home.
China in recent years has emerged as a major space power with manned space missions and landing a rover in the dark side of the moon. It is currently building a space station of its own.
Chinese space officials have said the new samples will be shared with the UN and international partners. The Chinese public will also get to see some of the materials when they are put on display in a national museum.