China’s Chang’e-5 lunar exploration mission took off on Tuesday, the first leg of what Chinese space scientists are calling a “very long and even perilous walk” to land on the moon and bring back samples from the lunar surface.
The early morning launch from Wenchang Cosmodrome off the southern seaside island of Hainan was broadcast live by China Central Television.
CCTV and other state media were quick to assert that with the smooth take-off of a Long March-5 heavy transport rocket, China has joined the elite ranks of the former Union. Soviet Union and the United States as a “space superpower” capable of returning extraterrestrial objects to Earth.
“The world has not seen new lunar samples for more than four decades, and now is the time for China to end mankind’s lull in lunar exploration and research, not just to let China’s footprint on Earth’s natural satellite, but also to bring some of it to Earth, with samples of moon rocks, soil and regolith available for the global scientific community to study, ”reads -on in a People’s Daily editorial.
The Communist Party spokesman quoted Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of China’s National Space Administration, as saying that the Chang’e-5 mission was also proof that China was almost able to send taikonauts (Chinese astronauts) to the moon and bring them back safely to Earth.
However, he acknowledged that manned space travel would be technically much more difficult than picking up a bag of rocks and debris and sending it back to Earth.
Pei added that the current 810,000 kilometer round trip would test the reliability of all systems, from landing on the moon to re-entering Earth’s atmosphere for future manned programs as well as exploration of the deep space, including Chinese projects on Mars.
There have also been calls in China for Beijing to increase its funding and support so that the taikonauts can bring their American peers into the new race for the moon. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said last year that the agency intends to return American astronauts to the moon by around 2024.
The Chang’e-5 high-level mission has lasted for years and consists of a service module, lunar lander, ascender and most importantly, a return capsule, with a total weight over 8 tonnes.
The Chang’e-5, named after the ancient mythological lunar goddess of China, will reach the Moon sometime after November 27. to start the Chang’e-5 return leg.
This can only happen after a landing-ascender combination of the Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, takes off on the near side of the moon after collecting samples.
Docking in orbit will involve a blocker and orbiter-turner, as well as the transfer of a sample container to be returned by air to a landing site in the wilderness of the Northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, from December 16 to 17.
“It’s a bit premature for Chinese state media to report the success of the entire mission now that the spacecraft has yet to reach the moon,” said a mainland doctoral student with a Hong Kong university faculty involved in part of the design of the spacecraft.
“The most difficult part is of course the relaunch of the Chang’e-5 of the moon and its rendezvous as well as the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, a process fraught with risks and even a small glitch, which ‘whether it is navigation or communications, can give up all efforts,’ said the student, who was part of the engineering faculty at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) that designed the system. sampling and surface packaging of the Chang’e-5 and its associated high-endurance robotic arms and cameras.
Still, he was optimistic about the success of the mission as a whole, given China’s impressive track record and mission success rate since 2004.
“The [surface sampling and packing] The system we designed for the mission was nearly foolproof, with substantial redundancy and precision engineered backup power built in. I think Beijing has also chosen other high-level teams across mainland China to design and build other key systems, ”said the researcher, who requested anonymity.
“Unlike statistical data which can be easily falsified, Beijing cannot control or hide what is going to happen on the moon and throughout Chang’e-5’s round trip, and the whole world is watching,” he said. he declared.
Professor Yung Kai-leung, who led the Hong Kong PolyU team, said returning samples was complex and risky.
“The surface sampling and packaging system is one of the most critical components of the Chang’e-5 mission, an essential, decisive part,” said Yung.
“It took over six phases of prototype production through different stages of space qualification to complete the project, not to mention pre-production research, system design, discussions and meetings with the company. ‘Chinese Academy of Space Technology,’ he said.
Xinhua also revealed that the Chang’e-5 mission took a different sampling approach than the United States and the Soviet Union, as the Chinese mission would bring back heavier samples. The United States sent astronauts on manned missions to collect samples, while Soviet spacecraft took off from the moon and returned directly to Earth.
Additionally, the sampling site was chosen because the area had a young geologic age, younger than the sampling areas of the United States and the Soviet Union over 40 years ago.
Xinhua also said that China may soon send spacecraft to collect samples and take off from Mars and even some near-Earth asteroids.
China launched its three-stage lunar exploration program in 2004. In 2019, the Chang’e-4 made a historic landing on the distant lunar face, uncharted territory yet to be reached by the United States or the Soviet Union. It is currently collecting measurements of radiation exposure from the lunar surface, vital information for the future sending of astronauts to the moon.
Beijing is also planning a launch spree over the next ten years to place modules in low Earth orbit and assemble them in a space station called Tiangong, as the International Space Station nears the end of its lifespan. US laws prohibit most space exploration cooperation with China and have excluded China from partnering with the International Space Station.