C.hina has brought an unmanned spacecraft on its way to a moon landing. During the flight, rock samples should be brought back to earth for the first time in more than four decades. The “Long March 5” rocket took off early Tuesday time (Monday CET) from the space station at Wenchang on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. The spacecraft, named after the Chinese moon goddess “Chang’e 5”, is expected to bring a moon to the moon on Sunday, which will collect rocks and drill samples.
With a successful return, China would become only the third space nation, after the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, to succeed in such a project. The spacecraft is supposed to land in the volcanic area named after the German astronomer Karl Rümker (1788-1862). It is located in the “ocean of storms” in the upper left part of the moon’s side facing the earth.
The mission is considered one of the most complex that space travel in China has ever accomplished: for the first time, a Chinese ascent would start again from the moon, take rock samples and perform docking movement in the earth’s satellite orbit before the return capsule flies back to earth.
Return in three and a half weeks
The 8,200 kilogram spacecraft consists of four modules: the orbiter with the return capsule and the lander with the ascending phase. After touching down on the moon’s surface, the gutter is supposed to use a long arm to collect about two kilograms of moon rock and samples of boreholes up to two meters deep and keep them in a chamber.
After the ascent and docking motion with the orbiter, the rock samples are to be loaded into the capsule, which then returns to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to land at the Siziwang Flag in Inner Mongolia on December 16 or 17. Scientists are eagerly awaiting the samples, as no rock from the recent moon’s history has yet been brought to earth for studies.
The “stormy ocean” is only 1.2 million years. On the other hand, moon rocks collected by the United States and the USSR are significantly older, at 3.1 and 4.4 million years. The largest moon plain got its name from the earlier assumption that its appearance with the weak crescent meant stormy weather.
Research hopes for moon rocks
Researchers hope the samples will provide important new insights into volcanic activity and the history of the moon. Apollo US missions brought back about 380 kilograms of moon rock. The Soviet Union collected a total of 300 grams – most recently with the unmanned “Luna 24” mission in 1976, when about 170 grams of moon dust came to earth.
Chinese moon flight occurs 51 years after the first U.S. moon landing on July 21, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin were the first people to step on the satellite’s surface. America has brought astronauts to the moon six times – most recently with “Apollo 17” in December 1972.
It is only the second regular flight of the more than 800-tonne Chinese rocket “Long March 5” after such a launch of the Mars probe “Tianwen-1” in July. Initially, there were problems with the engine of the new heavy lift rocket, which resulted in the moon’s mission being delayed by three years.
“Chang’e 5” is supposed to land on the moon at sunrise and remain on earth for one moon day – two weeks. The spacecraft does not have to have special heating devices to withstand the very cold temperatures of night in the moonlight. The complexity of the three-week flight is also considered a preparation for possible future staffed moon landings.
China is pursuing an ambitious space program with missions to the moon and planet Mars and building its own space station. In January 2019, China landed as the first space nation with “Chang’e 4” on the far side of the unexplored moon. Roaming has been left to continue exploring the surface.