For the first time in more than 40 years, a robotic spaceship has been blown up from the moon – and for the first time ever, it is a Chinese spaceship that is bringing valuable moon samples back to Earth.
The ascension vehicle for the Chang & # 39; e-5 mission fired its engine and ascended at 1510 UTC (11:10 p.m. Beijing time) on December 3 in a region called Oceanus Procellarum, the China National Space's China Lunar Exploration Project reported Administration.
Images sent back from the moon gave a glimpse of the Blastoff from Ground Zero. It was the first successful moon launch since the Soviet Luna 24 spacecraft launched during a sample return mission in 1976.
Chang & # 39; e-5 is the third Chinese spaceship to land on the moon, but it is the first to collect samples destined for return to Earth. And mission managers say it's a full load, equivalent to up to two kilograms of material.
The collection effort relied on a robotic arm equipped with a shovel and a drill that could reach up to 2 meters below the surface of the moon. The mission plan was not to spend more than 48 hours sampling between landing on December 1 and take-off. But mission managers said the equipment worked so well that the sample container was filled with enough time.
Before launch, the probe deployed a Chinese flag which, according to CCTV, was China's "first" independent display of "the national flag on the lunar surface."
Chang & # 39; e-5's hardware consists of the lander, the ascent vehicle, the transfer vehicle that put the probe into lunar orbit, and an attached earth return pod. After blasting off the lander's launch platform, the ascent vehicle meets the transfer vehicle in orbit and secures the sample container in the earth return capsule.
Mission managers said the transfer vehicle would continue to orbit the moon while waiting for an appropriate opportunity to begin the day-long journey back to Earth. At some point around December 16, the transfer vehicle is expected to make an earth flyby and drop the earth return capsule. This capsule is designed to go through atmospheric re-entry, open the parachute, and touch down in Inner Mongolia.
A recovery team would then bring the samples back to Chinese laboratories for analysis.
Chinese Chang & # 39; e-5 lander on the moon's surface, leaving shovels like animal claws as it collects samples for return to earth. Preparations for the launch of the ascent vehicle with the samples are in progress. The launch is expected at 15:10 GMT today. pic.twitter.com/x9azplaey2
– Philip Haines (@PhHaines) December 3, 2020
The place where Chang & # 39; e-5 landed near a lava dome called Mons Rümker is believed to have been formed 1.2 billion years ago – which is relatively new geologically. If the Chang & # 39; e-5 specimens return safely to Earth, they will likely be the youngest specimens of lunar regolites ever to be excavated and returned. The study of such samples could lead to new insights into the development of the earth-moon system.
NASA hasn't brought back samples from the moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972, but it is expanding its Artemis program to send astronauts to the moon (and bring back lunar material) as early as 2024.
NASA and its partners are also working on a campaign to bring samples back from Mars sometime in the 2030s. One of the main goals of NASA's Perseverance rover, due to land in Mars' Jezero crater next February, is to collect and store samples for such a return flight mission.
The procedure for bringing Mars samples back to Earth is likely to be similar to that for the Chang & # 39; e-5 lunar mission.
Mission: A camera on China's Chang & # 39; e-5 spaceship captures the moment of ignition of the ascent module that lifts off the lunar surface. Photo credit: CNSA / CLEP / Zhang Gaoxiang