Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Chang’e-5 returner capsule carrying lunar samples is headed for a Beijing laboratory for opening, with an eagerly awaiting research team set to study the fresh Moon specimens.

Given the success of the lunar exploration mission, China space officials say a next step is to cooperate with scientists of other nations to analyze the Moon samples.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China is set to establish a lunar sample analysis solicitation, with a team of domestic and foreign scientists organized to consider requests for the samples.

China will be sharing a portion of the lunar rock and soil samples brought back by its Chang’e-5 probe with other countries, said Wu Yanhua, deputy head of China National Space Administration, on Thursday.

Sharing samples

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Wu said that while the samples will be mainly used for scientific research, China is prepared to share some of the samples with the rest of the world.

“There are three types of use: The first type, or the main purpose, is for scientific research. The second is to enable the public to see the samples as early as possible. Thus a portion of the samples will be sent to the National Museum as exhibits for the public to enjoy. And the third will be to share samples with other countries and scientists around the world, in accordance with the relevant international cooperation conventions as well as multilateral and bilateral cooperation agreements. We will soon release guidelines on the management of the lunar samples and data. And part of the samples may be used as diplomatic gifts according to precedents set by the United States and Russia,” Wu said.

Zhang Kejian, head of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), declared the Chang’e-5 mission a success. It marks a successful conclusion of China’s current three-step lunar exploration program of orbiting and landing, and bringing back samples, which began in 2004.

Photo taking during surface sampling.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Now that the Chang’e-5 probe’s returner has come back with samples of lunar soil, an important step next is that we will carry out extensive cooperation with scientists of other countries in carrying out in-depth studies of the lunar soil,” Zhang said in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

The Chang’e-5 mission laid a foundation for future manned lunar and deep space exploration. “China is drawing up plans for future lunar exploration, including constructing a basic version of a scientific research station,” said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of CNSA’s Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center.

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

“We hope to cooperate with other countries to build the international lunar scientific research station, which could provide a shared platform for lunar scientific exploration and technological experiments,” Pei said.

Search and recovery teams

According to the CNSA, under ground control, the return capsule separated from the Chang’e-5 orbiter/returner craft high above the Atlantic. The capsule entered the Earth’s atmosphere and after aerodynamic deceleration, skipped out of the atmosphere. Then the capsule re-entered the atmosphere to perform a second aerodynamic deceleration.

Credit: XinhuaVideo/Inside Outer Space screengrab

At about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above the ground, a parachute opened with the capsule landing in the predetermined area, with search and recovery teams finding the hardware in short order.

An air team in helicopters spotted the capsule using infrared cameras, while a ground team followed in SUVs to reach the snow-covered landing site. Ground teams cordoned off the area, confirmed coordinates, and set up a communication station to connect with Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center.

“We have just measured the shape of the crater that the returner landed on, which is part of the scientific data collection. Then the returner will be put on ‘new warm coat’ to prevent the remaining propellant inside from being frozen during the transportation to Zhurihe Airport, where the propellant will be expelled from returner,” said Cao Ruiqiang, a space product assurance assistant, in a CCTV interview.

Credit: China Central Television (CCTV)/China National Space Administration (CNSA)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Chang’e-5 capsule was loaded onto a truck, and then transported by helicopter and airplane to Beijing.

Lunar lab

Chang’e-5’s return capsule has reportedly brought back 4.4 pounds (two kilograms) of lunar samples. The mission made use of an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner.

The multi-phased mission was launched on November 24. On December 1 its lander-ascender combination touched down north of Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the Moon.

Lunar Sample Laboratory at the National Astronomical Observatory. (NAO)Credit: China Central
Television (CCTV)/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In Beijing, CNSA will transfer the lunar materials to the Lunar Sample Laboratory at the National Astronomical Observatory (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which has been built specially for storage, processing and analysis of the samples.

“The biggest challenge is unsealing in the atmosphere the sample package, which is sealed in a vacuum environment [on the moon]. To address that, we have verified several times and designed a special process. We will unpack the samples in a vacuum environment, and transfer them to a nitrogen environment for storage and processing,” said Zhang Guangliang, chief designer of the Ground Application System of Chinese Lunar Exploration Project’s third phase in a CCTV interview.

Credit: CGTN

Analysis methods

“The first thing we consider is to use some damage-free analysis methods as much as possible, such as observation of optical characteristics under a microscope, and spectral measurement in the laboratory,” said Zhou Qin, also identified as a chief designer of the Ground Application System of Chinese Lunar Exploration Project’s third phase in a CCTV interview.

Credit: CGTN

“Of course, these measurements will be conducted and analyzed under a special environment such as with high purity nitrogen, so as to minimize the impact of the Earth’s environment on lunar samples,” Zhou said. “In addition, we will also do some chemical composition analysis which will cause damage. We will make analysis comprehensively, and try to obtain more useful information with the smallest sample amount.”

To view newly-released videos focused on the Chang’e-5 return capsule go to:

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