Hauling back the lunar goods, China’s orbiter/returner.
Credit: CNSA/CLEP

The orbiter/returner of China’s Chang’e-5 mission has attained a Moon-Earth transfer orbit, expected to land on Earth in Inner Mongolia on December 17th.

Credit: CNSA/CLEP

Loaded with lunar samples, the spacecraft conducted its second orbital maneuver at 09:51 on Sunday and entered the Moon/Earth transfer orbit, according to sources with the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Four 150 newton-thrust engines on the orbiter/returner combination ignited when they were 143 miles (230 kilometers) away from the lunar surface and shut down after 22 minutes, CNSA said in a statement.

Re-entry capsule will perform slow-down maneuvers within Earth’s atmosphere.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to real-time monitoring data, the orbiter/returner combination entered the targeted orbit successfully.

Later, the spacecraft combination will make three additional orbit corrections before landing on Earth. When the time is right, the orbiter and returner will separate from one another.

The reentry capsule will perform a series of slow-down maneuvers to return to a preset landing site within the Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. If the landing is successful, the lunar samples will be the first batch to be robotically brought to the Earth since 1976 by the former Soviet Union’s Luna-24.

Return capsule expected to touch down within Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Credit: CCTV/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Series of steps

Chang’e 5 has four main components: an orbiter, lander, ascender and reentry capsule.

The spacecraft was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on November 24 at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province.

Once in lunar orbit, the probe separated into two parts – the orbiter/reentry capsule combination and the lander/ascender combination on November 30.

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

On December 1, the lander/ascender combination touched down on the Moon, with the duo scooping up and drilling to obtain underground samples from roughly 7 feet (2 meters) beneath the surface, an operation that ended on December 2. All collection and packing processes finished on the night of that day, much sooner than expected. Samples were packed into a vacuum container inside the ascender.

Ascender (left) departs orbiter/returner.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The ascender activated an engine on December 3 to lift itself into an elliptical lunar orbit to prepare for docking with the orbiter/returner vehicles. It rendezvoused and docked with the orbiter/returner on December 6 and then transferred lunar samples into the returner capsule.

The ascender then separated from the combination and was commanded to impact the Moon on December 8.

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

https://youtu.be/1dOkYOMMQc4

https://youtu.be/VwmKEt7HFto

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