It was night in China when the Chang’e 5 mission was successfully launched. A Long March 5 rocket blasted off from the Wenchang space center and after about 36 minutes an orbiter and a lander separated from the rocket’s last stage to begin their journey to the Moon. The aim is to take samples of lunar soil and bring them back to Earth.
The Chang’e 5 mission begins about three years late due to the launch failure of a Long March 5 rocket, the most powerful produced by China. The Chang’e 5-T1 mission, which was meant to test various technologies needed to bring lunar samples back to Earth, was successfully conducted almost exactly six years ago.
This mission involves the landing of a lander near Mons Rümker, a volcanic formation in the large region called Oceanus Procellarum, the largest of the Moon’s maria. It’s a relatively young region, with an estimated age of 1.2 billion years. The American Apollo missions and the Soviet landers took samples in much older regions, more than 3.5 billion years old.
The Chang’e 5 mission lander is equipped with various instruments to capture images of the area in which it will conduct its mission and to carry out some soil analyzes directly on site. The most important task remains the taking of soil samples, up to 2 kg by drilling the soil up to about 2 meters below the surface. Another vehicle landed on the Moon along with the lander will blast off to carry the samples to the orbiter, which will then begin the journey back to Earth.
This task will be done during a lunar day, equivalent to about 14 Earth days. For this reason, the lander isn’t designed to survive the conditions present at night, with intense cold and darkness. That’s because the Chang’e 5 mission is focused on taking samples to bring back to Earth, it’s not a long-term mission like the ones started in recent years by China with landers and rovers designed to work for a long time in all lunar conditions.
Official statements from the Chinese space agency mention international collaborations. ESA collaborates on the Chang’e 5 mission with Kourou station, in French Guiana, which supports the tracking of the spacecraft during its journey. However, the Chinese authorities aren’t exactly famous for their openness and tend to offer limited information about their space missions too.
The Chinese space program is very ambitious with automated missions and others with astranauts, or taikonauts, a space station and a Moon base. Despite the delays, the program is moving forward step by step, and if the Chang’e 5 mission is successful, the Chinese will proceed with even more sophisticated automated vehicles.