Nearly home – Chang’e-5 orbiter/returner.

China’s Chang’e-5 orbiter/returner completed its second trajectory correction on its Moon-to-Earth transfer voyage Wednesday morning, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

At 9:15 am (Beijing time) two 25 newton thrust engines on the orbiter/returner combination fired for about eight seconds. The CNSA said all systems on the orbiter/returner combination that carries the lunar specimens are in good condition.

Return capsule skips through Earth’s atmosphere en route to landing zone.
Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Still to come, however, is the critical release of the reentry capsule later today from the orbiter, an action that is staged roughly 3,107 miles (5,000 kilometers) from Earth. The capsule is expected to land at the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region with a search and retrieval team at the ready.

Along with its cache of lunar collectibles, the return capsule is toting a variety of plant seeds. According to the Space Breeding Innovation Alliance, its space breeding program was part of the payload consisting of seeds, including rice, orchids, alfalfa and oats. The seeds embarked on the round trip to the Moon on November 24 when the Chang’e-5 mission was launched.

Signal from the orbiter/returner acquired via the 15-meter Maspalomas antenna, operated by the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Spain.

Meanwhile, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that they have acquired the signal from the orbiter/returner via its Maspalomas ground station in Spain, operated by the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA). There is a live link from the Maspalomas station that goes via ESA’s European Space Operations Center to a control center in China.

Map notes projected Chang’e-5 reentry capsule trajectory, produced by satellite tracker, Scott Tilley.
Credit: Scott Tilley



Blackout zone

The measurement and control team responsible for locating and recovering the return capsule have set up and tested their tracking devices at the designated landing area. They have had to deal with temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, a challenge to the team and their measurement and control devices.

Recovery team at the ready to retrieve return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Technician Wang Yuxiang said the Chang’e-5 capsule will enter a blackout zone during its returning, which will pose a loss of signal.

“When the returner is in the blackout zone, our team cannot track its downward signal or judge its position,” Wang said in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview. “In this period, we can only carry out the search using the pre-set points and theoretical trajectories. After the returner gets out of the blackout zone, we can then judge its position based on the amplitude of its signal, and better implement the searching work,” Wang added.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Retrieval simulations

China’s ground search and retrieval teams have carried out a comprehensive training program, one that simulated various conditions in the search for the return capsule by aerial and ground vehicles.

The team from the Xi’an Satellite Control Center in northwest China has completed setting up and testing their equipment at the designated landing zone. They are responsible for providing fast, accurate measurement and control data to make the search for and retrieval of the landed capsule as efficient as possible.

Take a view of a newly issued video regarding the recovery team awaiting the return capsule at:

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