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China calls launch a success as robotic spacecraft heads to moon

24th November, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: China hailed as a success its pre-dawn launch of a robotic spacecraft to bring back rocks from the moon in the first bid by any country to retrieve lunar surface samples since the 1970s, a mission underscoring Chinese ambitions in space.

Chang'e-5 mission

  • Named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon.
  • It will seek to collect lunar material to help scientists understand more about the moon's origins and formation.
  • The mission will test China's ability to remotely acquire samples from space, ahead of more complex missions.
  • If the mission is completed as planned, it would make China only the third country to have retrieved lunar samples, joining the United States and the Soviet Union.
  • Upon entering the moon's orbit, the spacecraft is intended to deploy a pair of vehicles to the lunar surface: a lander and an ascender.
  • The plan is for the lander to drill into the lunar surface, with a robotic arm scooping out soil and rocks.
  • This material would be transferred to the ascender vehicle, which is due to carry it from the surface and then dock with an orbiting module.
  • The samples then would be transferred to a return capsule for the return trip to Earth, with a landing in China's Inner Mongolia region.
  • China, last year carried out the first landing on the far side of the moon and in July of this year launched a robotic probe to Mars, has other space goals in its sights.
  • It aims to have a permanent manned space station in service around 2022.
  • Special about these regions is that they remained warm longer than the rest of the moon,”

Other nations move

  • The United States, which currently has plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, landed 12 astronauts there in its Apollo programme over six flights from 1969 to 1972, and brought back 382 kg
  • The Soviet Union deployed three successful robotic lunar sample-return missions in the 1970s. The last, the Luna 24, retrieved about 170 grams (6 ounces) of samples in 1976 from a region called Mare Crisium.