Representational image | via @Dr_ThomasZ/Twitter
Representational image | via @Dr_ThomasZ/Twitter

Bengaluru: A sample return capsule from China’s Chang’e-5 Moon mission carrying the lunar regolith or soil, made of Moon rocks and dust, safely touched down in North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region at approximately 2 am local time Thursday (11.30pm IST Wednesday).

This is the first lunar sample return since 1976, when the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 returned with lunar material.

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The material weighing approximately 2 kg was collected by digging and scooping on the Moon by the mission’s lander, before being loaded onto an ascent vehicle that subsequently docked with an Earth-return module. The service module of the mission’s orbiter then released the return capsule, which eventually landed on Earth with the samples.

The mission gathered samples for just two days on the Moon before landing at Siziwang Banner in Inner Mongolia, where Chinese astronauts land home. The China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) said in a statement that the re-entry capsule will be airlifted to Beijing before being opened.

Nature of the Moon samples

Unlike the previous lunar samples from the US’s Apollo missions and the Soviet Luna missions, Chang’e-5’s samples are taken from newer lunar rock. The mission landed on a high volcanic region called Mons Rümker in the northwestern part of the near side of the Moon.

While the rest of the lunar regolith is thought to be as old as the Moon itself — over 3 billion years in age — volcanic rock is much younger as volcanic activity continued for billions of years and formed layers of new rock. Chang’e-5’s samples are thought to be no more than 1.3 billion years old.

Studying such young rocks gives more insight into the formation and evolution of the Earth-Moon system, and by extension, the solar system. It also helps planetary scientists recalibrate how they date surfaces on rocky bodies in the inner solar system.

The Apollo and Luna missions together had collected a total of 400kg worth of lunar samples.

Also read: Chang’e-5 landing latest feat in China’s big Moon plans that aim for lunar base, human mission

Technical feats and future objectives

The Chang’e-5 return mission used a skipping re-entry method to mitigate the extreme speeds at which the capsule sped towards Earth. This method was tried out during the experimental test flight for the mission earlier.

Returning satellites typically fly at around a speed of 7.8 km per second, but Chang’e-5 return module was flying at over 11.2 km per second, at the speed of Earth’s escape velocity.

The capsule first skipped over the upper layers of the atmosphere to lower speed, before dipping in and plunging safely. The skip re-entry process took approximately 15 minutes.

The capsule’s parachutes opened about 10 kilometres above the ground.

China used advanced radar as well as newly developed powered exoskeletons for two members of the search crew, equipped with communication transponders, searchlights, and power, for search and recovery.

The European Space Agency (ESA) helped China track the spacecraft as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Chang’e-5 has successfully completed 11 stages of its lunar mission, concluding one of China’s most sophisticated space missions. It is a part of the eight-mission Chang’e programme, which also saw the first ever successful landing of a craft on the far side of the moon.

The upcoming three missions will include more sample collection, but also the establishment of a “research base” on the lunar surface to explore natural resources available on the Moon.

Also read:Chang’e-4 and Chandrayaan-2 — China & India missions have similar objectives, landing site


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  1. This feat is to prepare for China’s future manned lunar exploration before 2030.

    Soviet only managed to sent a small lunar probe to collect 300g of surface dust and return directly to earth without sophisticated rendezvous orbit docking.

    Whereas US NASA manned lunar landing is completely a $30Bils(astronomical in 1960’s) Hollywood Block blaster scam.

    Just go to NASA site or Google to look at the lunar lander picture made of flimsy cardboards and papers. There are simply no space in the tiny lander to store huge fuel and powerful rocket able to sent 3 astronauts 2ways, let alone the huge supplies and living space required to sustain their life in -130~170deg moon for weeks.

    Yet NASA can still staffed a huge EV rover inside, with enough battery for 1wk wild wild riding, all in 1960’s technology NASA can repeat again in 2020.

    While India claimed as 4th nation to access moon using Russia supplied rockets to dump a “lander” in moon, it has lost control of it since Russia Space can’t sell the lunar lander technology it doesn’t mastered yet. But it proved to be a great boost for Indians pride to help Modi win election.

    So Israel Netanyahoo followed by asking NASA to dump a rubbish into moon to claim 5th nation ever explore moon.

    Yet EU been so advanced and wealthy, have never make such attempt to explore outer space. Russia too. Only Jp recently sent a probe to collect asteroid sample. Because its a very costly and sophisticated game only superpower US, Soviet and now China can afford and capable of.

    Can poor India $2.8T GDP who can’t make even LCD also capable of? Time will tell.


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