Long March-3C rocket lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying China's new Moon test spacecraft. Credit: China Space

Long March-3C rocket lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center carrying China’s new Moon test spacecraft.
Credit: China Space

An advanced Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province has hurled toward the Moon China’s robotic test vehicle.

Launched early Friday (local China time), the spacecraft will fly around the Moon for half a circle and return to Earth in a test of reentry technologies to be used for China’s lunar return sample program.

On its return to Earth, the test spacecraft will make a “skip reentry” to progressively slow down before landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Dubbed by China observers as the Chang’e-5 Test 1 (CE5-T1), the mission is to take some 8 days, according to China news outlets.

Well-controlled reentry

“Earthbound experiments can’t effectively simulate the complexity of the atmospheric environment,” Hao Xifan, deputy chief designer of the CE5-T1 and Chang’e-5 missions told China’s S&T Daily shortly before the launch, according to the AAAS ScienceInsider.

Hao said the spacecraft’s skip reentry must be well-controlled. “If it’s too low, the probe may be burnt. If too high, it won’t be able to land in the targeted area.”

Also on the China booster: Hitchhiking payloads 4M, developed by LuxSpace in Luxembourg and PS86X1 from Pocket Spacecraft – a virtual organization situated in the United Kingdom.

This current Moon mission by China is to gather experimental data and confirm re-entry technologies such as guidance, navigation and control, heat shield and trajectory design. That knowledge will be rolled into a future touch-down on the Moon by Chang’e-5, now targeted for a 2017 flight to land on the lunar surface and snag samples for return to Earth.

For an interesting look at China’s current and future robotic lunar missions, go to:

— Video: Launch of Chang’e 5 test mission

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfIBUlflRM0

— Video describing the mission.

http://www.ecns.cn/video/2014/10-23/139651.shtml

— Video: Chang’e 5 moon return test mission

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkgG_SzXHVw

According to LuxSpace:

After a thunderstorm two hours before liftoff, the skies cleared to see the Long March 3C booster rocket “through” the Orion constellation and head toward the Moon.

Here is a movie of the liftoff:

https://cloud.luxspace.lu/public.php?service=files&t=c7cc065cd4757e1ba570521e3f40b4c2&download

The LuxSpace 4M spacecraft has been successfully activated and has started to transmit to Earth with data received from stations all over the world (so far from Argentina, Brazil, USA, and Australia).

Temperature variations of the 4M spacecraft indicate that the last stage of the rocket is smoothly rotating, “making 4M’s journey to the moon and back so far not too harsh,” LuxSpace reports.

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