Ascender powers into lunar orbit.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule is preparing for transit back to Earth. The mission’s lander/ascender spent about 19 hours snagging samples from the Moon’s surface on Thursday and completed the country’s first-ever takeoff from an extraterrestrial body.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Carrying its precious cargo of lunar collectibles, the ascender module of the Chang’e-5 lander spacecraft powered itself into Moon orbit to rendezvous and dock with other mission modules.

“It took six minutes for the module to enter into the lunar orbit after taking off and seven minutes later, it unfolded its solar panels. It is impossible for us to intervene during such a short period of time if anything happens. So, we have made special designs to enable the module to make decisions on its own,” said Xing Zhuoyi, a designer of the Chang’e-5 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

The ascender module will dock with the orbiter/returner modules, transferring the lunar sample container into those elements.

“After the docking, the combination of orbiter and returner will stay in orbit for a few days. It will be waiting for a specific window period that allows the combination to return to the Earth, said Xing in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Skip re-entry

In depositing the sample-carrying capsule into the Earth’s atmosphere, designers have developed a skip reentry method mimicking a skipping stone to lower the craft’s speed and protect it during the scorching reentry.

“The speed is too high because of the reentry at the second cosmic velocity. So we need to reduce the speed through the inflatable aerodynamic decelerator,” said Shu Yan, chief designer of the Chang’e-5 mission. “By this way, the returner can re-enter the atmosphere at a lower speed, like the Shenzhou spacecraft, and successfully return to the Earth.”

Capsule return with Moon samples, landing at Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The lunar rocks and soil gathered by Chang’e 5’s lander/ascender combination are scheduled to parachute into a preset site in North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region in mid-December.

Experimental spacecraft

China launched an experimental spacecraft on October 24, 2014, to test technologies used for the Chang’e-5 mission.

Comprising a re-entry capsule and a service module, that craft flew halfway around the Moon. After the re-entry and service capsules separated, the re-entry vehicle approached Earth’s atmosphere at about 11.2 km per second.

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.
Courtesy: China Space

 

That test return capsule touched down at the designated landing area in Siziwang Banner, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, on November 1, 2014.

The service module flew back to orbit the moon for further tests and reached the L2 point of the Earth-Moon system to conduct experiments.

 

 

Go to these newly issued CCTV videos detailing the Chang’e-5 mission:

https://youtu.be/mBv-QoOkaBk

https://youtu.be/hB3UPLm356U

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