NASA Lunar
Reconnaissance Orbiter imagery used to help pinpoint China’s Chang’e-4 lander.
Credit: NASA/Arizona State University

 

 

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and the well-wheeled rover have been switched to dormant mode within the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon.

Yutu-2 rover as imaged by Chang’e-4 lander earlier in the farside mission.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

The farside mission landed on January 3, 2019.

According to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration the lander and Yutu-2 rover have entered the 14-day lunar night cycle after working satisfactorily for a 22nd lunar day.

Chang’e-4 lander on the Moon’s farside as imaged by Yutu-2 rover.
Credit: CNAS/CLEP

 

The lander was switched to dormant mode at 7:30 am on Thursday as scheduled, and the rover, Yutu-2, at 11:18 pm on Wednesday.

As of Thursday, the mobile robot has traveled over 1,795 feet (547.17 meters).

Next up

Meanwhile, preparations are underway for the departure of Chang’e-5, the next mission in China’s expanding lunar exploration initiative.

Yu Dengyun, deputy chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program, said last weekend that Chang’e-5 will be launched by a Long March-5 heavy-lift booster from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province by the end of 2020.

The 8.2-metric-ton robotic probe has four elements: an orbiter, lander, ascender and re-entry module.

China plans to launch the ambitious Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission later this year. (Image credit: Used with permission: Loren Roberts/The Planetary Society at https://www.planetary.org/)

After the probe reaches lunar orbit, the components will separate into two parts, with the orbiter and re-entry module remaining in orbit while the lander and ascender go down to the lunar surface.

The lander and ascender will make a soft landing and then get to work on tasks such as using a drill to collect underground rocks and a mechanical arm to gather lunar soil.

Chang’e-5 lunar lander.
Credit CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

After the surface operations are completed, the ascender’s rocket will lift it to lunar orbit to dock with the re-entry module. It will transfer lunar samples to the module, that then carries them back to Earth.

Collection and packing processes

Considering these highly sophisticated operations, Chang’e-5 will be more difficult and challenging than previous Chinese lunar expeditions, Yu said, according to China media outlets.

China’s Chang’e-5 robotic sample return mission.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

“First of all, its most important task will be collecting lunar samples. The environment on the lunar surface, like the gravity there, is very different from that on Earth. So we must ensure that our technologies are functional and reliable during the collection and packing processes,” Yu explained.

Lander launchpad

“The next challenge will be lifting the sample-carrying ascender from the Moon. All of our launches so far were made from Earth, but the coming launch will take place on lunar soil and use the Chang’e-5’s lander as the launchpad. Consequently, the challenge will be whether our equipment can handle the complicated operation as it was designed to do.”

Chang’e-5 mission is intended to return lunar specimens back to Earth.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

After the capsule containing lunar collectibles is sent into orbit, it will approach the re-entry module and dock with the latter, Yu said.

“Previous rendezvous and docking by our spaceships occurred in low-Earth orbit, but this time it will take place in a lunar orbit,” Yu said, adding that the last challenge will emerge during the Earth re-entry process. The entry capsule will descend through Earth’s atmosphere at a speed of 11.2 kilometers per second, much faster than previous re-entry speeds of Chinese spacecraft.

Map of Rümker region, target of Chang’E-5 sample return mission. Credit: Y. Qian, et al.

If successful, the mission will make China the third nation to haul back to Earth lunar samples – following the former Soviet Union’s robotic Moon program that ended in 1976, and the United States Apollo Moon landing program that concluded in 1972.

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission elements.
Credit: CNSA

 

 

 

Moon plans

China has also made plans for Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 missions.

Chang’e-6 is expected to land at the Moon’s south pole and haul back to Earth lunar regolith samples.

Chang’e-7 is set to conduct a thorough investigation of the lunar south pole.

Chang’e-8 will verify technologies that could be applied to future lunar expeditions, including a possible scientific outpost, according to the China National Space Administration.

Go to this video:

China to Launch Chang’e-5 Lunar Probe This Year

https://youtu.be/_raAMC8XnJI

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