tech2 News StaffDec 18, 2020 10:53:28 IST
Author's note: The copy has been updated to reflect the new developments of the Chang'e 5 lunar probe.
After landing on the moon, China's Chang’e 5 probe had begun drilling into the surface of the moon to pick up lunar samples to bring back to Earth. Recent reports from the Chinese space agency state that the probe has completed the sampling process and has already packed up the collected materials into a special container by Wednesday night.
"Scientific detection was carried out as planned," the space agency said, without providing details.
If it is successful, this will be the first time in 40 years that we will have rocks and moon dirt after the US's Apollo missions in the 1960s and the Russian missions in the 1970s. Chang’e 5 – named for the Chinese moon goddess – was launched on Wednesday, 25 November at 2.00 am IST (Tuesday, 24 November 3.30 pm EST) from the Wenchang Space Center on the southern island province of Hainan.
The lander/orbiter duo was hoisted atop the massive Long March-5Y rocket. This is the third time that China has placed a robotic spacecraft on the moon.
The Long March-5Y rocket, nicknamed “Fat 5” because of its bulky shape, had failed on two previous launch attempts and was unable to launch its payloads into orbit thereby crushing China's space ambitions. However, the country and its military-run space agency seemed to have made a come back with this launch.
On Tuesday, Chang’e 5 lander touched down on a site close to Mons Rümker which is in the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) region, located on the near side of the moon. This happened a few days after the lander and ascent stage separated from an orbiter and return capsule is still in lunar orbit, the China National Space Administration said in a statement. The agency has also released images of the barren landing site showing the lander's shadow.
The Oceanus Procellarum is the only one of the lunar maria to be called an ocean due to its size. The Ocean of storms are huge and stretch for more than 2,500 km across its north-south axis and covering roughly 4,000,000 km2. According to a report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), this area is home to lunar rocks that are a few billion years younger than those that the Apollo program brought back.
The lunar maria are widespread plains of volcanic rocks called “maria” which is Latin for seas and were formed between 3.1 and 3.9 billion years ago.
Recent reports from China also states that the lander has already begun drilling in the moon's surface using a robotic arm and will do so for two days. It will collect anywhere between two to four kgs of lunar samples to bring back. The samples will be stored in a sample container. The probe had begun to drill two meters beneath the surface as soon as it had landed.
This is China's most ambitious missions but this complex mission depends on the four mission components working together.
According to The Verge, once the sample is collected and the arms transfer it to the ascent module, it will be time for Chang’e 5’s second takeoff. The ascent stage will blast off from the lander with the sample and meet up with the service module in orbit, and together the spacecraft will head back to Earth.
But that's not where the journey ends. The samples will again be transferred to the fourth spacecraft, which is a re-entry capsule that will bring it back to the ground.
China has kept mum about the landing date by media reports put the date anytime between 16-17th December, somewhere in Inner Mongolia.
According to a report by The Associated Press, the lunar samples will be made available for scientists from other nations to study. However, where the US will get a piece of the pie is unclear since the current foreign relations are tight and space cooperation is also restricted.
But that did not stop American space officials from congratulating their Chinese counterparts. the Chinese program.
Congratulations to China on the successful launch of Chang’e 5 to the Moon. We look forward to seeing how this sample return will advance the international science community. pic.twitter.com/4G1fLxfg6c
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) November 23, 2020
“Congratulations to China on the successful landing of Chang’e 5. This is no easy task,” wrote NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, on Twitter.
“When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community.”
With Chang’e 5, China has launched an effort to join the U.S. & the former Soviet Union in obtaining lunar samples. We hope China shares its data with the global scientific community to enhance our understanding of the Moon like our Apollo missions did & the Artemis program will. pic.twitter.com/mPjG4FE0qQ
— NASA (@NASA) November 23, 2020
NASA also tweeted out saying "With Chang’e 5, China has launched an effort to join the U.S. & the former Soviet Union in obtaining lunar samples."
"We hope China shares its data with the global scientific community to enhance our understanding of the Moon like our Apollo missions did & the Artemis program will."
China's Chang’e-4 touched down on the moon in January last year on the far side of the moon which was the first space probe from any nation to do so. It is still active on the moon and is currently in its 24th lunar day which is the equivalent to 677 Earth days
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