China’s champion – long duration Yutu-2 rover.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and rover have resumed work for the 14th lunar day on the farside of the Moon after “sleeping” during the extremely cold night, reports the Xinhua news service.

China’s Chang’e-4 lander as viewed by Yutu-2 rover.

Both the lander and the rover are in normal working order, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

A lunar day equals 14 days on Earth, and a lunar night is the same length. The Chang’e-4 mission elements switch to dormant mode during the lunar night due to the lack of solar power.

Movement of the Chang’e 4 rover, Yutu-2, captured in NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LROC images.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Chang’e-4 mission was launched on December 8, 2018. It made the first-ever soft landing within the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the farside of the Moon on January 3, 2019.

The Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2 rover, has worked much longer than its three-month design life, becoming the longest-working lunar rover on the Moon.

Chang’e-5 lunar lander.
Credit CCTV Video News Agency/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Sample return: fourth quarter 2020

In related lunar exploration news, the next mission in China’s Moon exploration program — Chang’e-5 — will land a probe on an area never reached by astronauts or spacecraft and is expected to bring back at least 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of samples, reports China Daily.

Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e-5 probe at the China Academy of Space Technology, said it is scheduled to be launched atop a Long March-5 carrier rocket.

The mission will depart Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province during the fourth quarter of this year. This mission is targeted for the northwestern part of the Oceanus Procellarum, a lunar mare on the western edge of the Moon’s near side, after flying for dozens of days.

Credit: New China/Screengrab

Sophisticated and challenging

Compared with previous Chinese lunar missions, Chang’e-5 will be more sophisticated and challenging, Peng said.

The 8.2-metric-ton probe has four components: an orbiter, lander, ascender and re-entry module. After the probe reaches lunar orbit, the components will separate into two parts, with the orbiter and re-entry module remaining in orbit while the lander and ascender head toward the lunar surface.

The lander and ascender will make a soft landing. One task is using a drill to collect underground rocks and a mechanical arm to gather lunar soil.

After the surface operations are done, the ascender’s rocket will lift it into lunar orbit to dock with the re-entry module. It will transfer lunar samples to the module, which will carry them back to Earth.

Locations of proposed Chang’e-5 landing sites (marked by red stars) from new study.
Credit: Chisenga, et al.

Quantity of samples

If the mission is successful, China would be the third nation to bring lunar samples back to Earth, after the United States and Russia, and also make Chang’e-5 effort the world’s first lunar sample-return mission in more than four decades.

Chang’e-5 mission is intended to return lunar specimens back to Earth.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

“The quantity of samples it will bring back depends on many factors, such as the landing site’s geology. We hope that it can collect at least 1 kilogram, and if everything goes well, it may bring two kilograms or even more,” Peng said in the China Daily story.

“The samples will be distributed to scientists for research on topics including the Moon’s physical composition, geological traits and shallow structures,” Peng added, “which will consequently help with the understanding of the Moon’s evolution.”

Turning to future lunar exploration, Peng said scientists and engineers have proposed that two or three missions could be made to set up a simple scientific outpost on the Moon, which would be able to accommodate astronauts for short-term stays, to carry out experiments and explore the feasibility of long-term visits.

China’s new crewed spaceship. A prototype of this new-generation piloted spacecraft has arrived at the launch site. The test ship is designed for use in China’s space station operations and also crewed lunar exploration. Credit: CCTV

New spaceship

According to Ma Xiaobing, deputy chief designer of China’s new-generation manned spacecraft, which has yet to be named, said that the new spaceship’s prototype will make its debut flight during the first mission of the Long March-5B rocket this year at the Wenchang center.

China’s space station scheduled to be operational in 2020’s.
Photo credit: CMSA


The three-day flight will test and verify several key pieces of equipment on the new spacecraft, which will be bigger than the previous Shenzhou-series manned spaceships, Ma said, noting the new model will be reusable.

Booster’s maiden flight

In a related story, Xinhua news agency reports that China’s Long March-5B carrier rocket has passed testing and examination before leaving the factory and is expected to make its maiden flight in the first half of 2020, according to the China Manned Space Agency.

Credit: CMSA

The Long March-5B is a modified version of Long March-5 and will be used to launch segments of China’s space station. China aims to complete the construction of its space station around 2022.

Weighing 66 tons, the space station will be a T shape with the Tianhe core module at the center and the Wentian and Mengtian lab capsules on each side.

In addition, a capsule holding a large optical telescope will fly in the same orbit as the station, adds the Xinhua news story.

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