Credit: CCTV-Plus

Work is underway in China to carry out the first Moon-sample return to Earth mission in over four decades.

Liftoff of Chang’e-5 is to occur at the end of November, according to the Xinhua news agency. The robotic craft is to ride atop China’s Long March-5 booster, departing from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province.

Four-part probe

According to Chinese news services, the over 8-ton Chang’e-5 is comprised of four parts: the “orbiter” “lander” “ascender” and a “returner” – an Earth reentry module.

Credit: CCTV-Plus

The mission will be China’s first automated Moon surface sampling probe, a mission that involves the first robotic docking in a lunar orbit to transfer collected lunar samples for return to Earth.

The lander will place lunar samples in a vessel in the ascender after the Moon landing. Then the ascender will take off from the lunar surface to dock with the orbiter and the returner orbiting the moon, and transfer the samples to the returner.

The orbiter and returner then head back to Earth, separating from each other far from Earth, with the returner module reentering and parachuting to Earth.

China’s Chang’e 3 lander.
Chinese Academy of Sciences

Past history

If successful, the Chang’e-5 mission would be the first lunar sample return to Earth in over 40 years.

The former Soviet Union successfully executed three robotic sample return missions: Luna 16 returned a small sample (101 grams) from Mare Fecunditatis in September of 1970; February 1972, Luna 20 returned 55 grams of soil from the Apollonius highlands region; Luna 24 retrieved 170.1 grams of lunar samples from the Moon’s Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis) for return to Earth in August 1976.

Relay station

China plans to fulfill three strategic steps with the launch of Chang’e-5, “orbiting, landing and returning.”

The first spacecraft of China’s Moon program, the Chang’e 1 lunar orbiter, was launched in 2007, after which Chang’e 2 was launched in 2010. Chang’e 3, included a lander and rover and was launched in December 2013, successfully soft-landing on the Moon.

China’s Yutu lunar rover.

Also on the country’s Moon exploration schedule is the launch of the Chang’e-4 lunar probe around 2018.

Chang’e-4 is designed to make the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, and to conduct an in situ and roving detection and relay communications at the Earth-Moon L2 point, according to the China National Space Administration.

“The country plans to send robots to explore both lunar poles,” said the administration’s vice director Wu Yanhua late last year, adding that plans to send astronauts to the Moon were also being discussed, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Human exploration

Also last year, Tian Yulong, chief engineer of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) noted that “lunar exploration is endless.”

Tian said that China is in discussion with the European Space Agency and other countries “to build bases and carry out scientific investigations on the Moon, which will lay a technology and material foundation for human beings’ landing on the Moon in the future.”

For a behind-the-scenes look at getting China’s Chang’e-5 ready for its lunar mission, go to this CCTV-Plus video:

2 Responses to “China’s Moon Sampling Mission Targeted for November”

  • Eli J. says:


    Dear Leonard David,
    I am a sixth-grade student at Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN. I’m working on a documentary film on the topic of China’s moon sampling launch, and I think you might be able to help me with information. Could you answer some questions for my research?

    #1 Is China working on any other space missions in the future, and if so what is it?

    #2 How long will the chang’e-5 take to return and launch the spacecraft?

    #3 What are some of the concerns and problems that might happen to the space craft chang’e-5?

    #4 How many chang’e missions have been successful over the past few years?

    Thank you for your time and trouble for reading this.
    In the interest of authentic, performance-based learning, my middle-school students are reaching out to experts about China as they prepare a documentary film about a topic of their choice. If you can, I appreciate very much your willingness to answer a few questions they have, taking just a few minutes of your time, I hope. I’ve tried to make sure they’re asking “expert” questions, after having done basic research already. Thanks for your assistance, and feel free to contact me if you have questions.
    Ward Fleissner
    Middle School Humanities Teacher Baylor School, Chattanooga, TN 423-267-8506 ext. 825

    • Leonard David says:

      Hi: Thanks for your message and interest in space exploration – and China’s unfolding Moon efforts:

      #1 Is China working on any other space missions in the future, and if so what is it?

      China has a very ambitious set of space missions in the near future, along with their Moon return sample mission to fly later this year. Keep an eye on China’s space station program – the building of a large space complex in Earth orbit to be regularly visited by crews – said to be in place by the 2020s.

      Also, China is working on a robotic Mars lander/rover to be lofted to the Red Planet in 2020.
      Back to the Moon, China is working with the European Space Agency on establishing a “Lunar Village” that will involve extensive robotic and human activities.

      Lastly, China is also readying a “farside” Moon lander as well as other spacecraft to land at the Moon’s poles – all of this as precursor work to have Chinese crews set foot on the Moon in the future.

      #2 How long will the chang’e-5 take to return and launch the spacecraft?

      Go to these stories:

      #3 What are some of the concerns and problems that might happen to the space craft chang’e-5?

      As with all space projects, hard work sometimes doesn’t pay off – China’s Long March 5 rocket could fail to launch Chang’e-5. The voyage to the Moon by the spacecraft could end in failure as it requires a very complicated set of maneuvers to achieve orbit, landing, gathering samples, then return those lunar specimens back to Earth.

      It’s not an easy mission – but if successful would certainly place China in a very small set of countries capable to accomplishing the feat.
      Go to:

      #4 How many chang’e missions have been successful over the past few years?

      Here’s a helpful story that shows the various Chinese Moon missions:

      Again, thanks for your message – and good luck on your documentary film project. I hope this information is helpful.

      Onward and upward!

Leave a Reply