Hu Hao, the chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar exploration program.
Credit: CCTV-Plus

China space officials are underscoring the attributes of its Chang’e-5 lunar lander and return sample project.

Chang’e-5 is slated to become the country’s first lunar probe to automatically collect samples, launch on the Moon, and engage in an auto-pilot docking in lunar orbit, according to Hu Hao, the chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar exploration program.

“The preparation of Chang’e 5 lunar probe is advancing steadily according to schedule,” Hu explains.

Challenges and breakthroughs

As reported by CCTV-Plus, the Chinese craft is scheduled for shipping to the Wenchang launch complex in August, then prepped for launch atop a Long March 5 carrier rocket around November.

Credit: CCTV-Plus

Hu notes that there are several challenges and breakthroughs the Chang’e-5 is going to make.

As for the primary task of collecting samples on the Moon, Hu said “one is using a drill. After the probe lands on the Moon, the drill will be used to collect samples beneath the surface. The other is to use a mechanical arm to collect samples on the surface, which contains unique information of the Moon.”

Return leg

Then there’s the return leg from the Moon back to Earth.

“We also have to design a docking in lunar orbit,” Hu added. “After the docking, the samples will be transferred, from the ascending part to the reentry capsule. This is also a complicated process.”

China’s Moon program intends to support a lunar sample return in 2017.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

En route from lunar orbit, the reentry capsule is to fly back to Earth at roughly 11.2 kilometers per second.

Important link

Chang’e-5 is an important link in the whole lunar exploration project, Hu notes, a three-step initiative of flying around the Moon, landing on the Moon and returning to Earth.

Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-3 completed the first two steps, with Chang’e-5 set to complete the last step of returning to Earth.

China is readying a Long March-5 rocket for liftoff in the first half of this year. Following that launch, the timing of Chang’e-5’s flight will be determined.

Following a circumlunar voyage in 2014, a return capsule parachuted to Earth. This test was a prelude to China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission being readied for its return sample mission later this year.
Courtesy: China Space

Technology roadmap

“To be realistic, [the lunar probe] will provide our scientists with qualified lunar samples for research, which will enable us to have a deeper understanding of the Moon,” Hu points out. “Technologically, a technology roadmap is necessary because it will be a good technological basis for our following deep space explorations and manned space travels to the Moon and other planets.”

Also on China’s Moon exploration  agenda, Chang’e-4 — a backup probe for the Chang’e-3 — is slated to be launched in 2018. That probe is targeted to achieve the first ever soft-landing on the far side of the Moon.

For a view of Chang’e-5 preparations, go to these CCTV-Plus videos:


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