January 24, 2017

China set to launch Moon-sampling mission in November

Two years after placing its very first rover on the surface of the moon, China has announced it would launch a mission to return lunar samples to Earth later this year. As it develops that mission, China's space agency is also getting ready to launch a different trip to the moon's far side, possibly in 2018.

At the end of 2013, China became the third country to effectively land a rover on the lunar surface, joining the United States and Russia. Named the Jade Rabbit, China's rover encountered a multitude of early technical issues. However, the mission was able to handle many of those issues and prolonged operations until August of 2016.

Returning Lunar Rocks

The mission to return lunar samples to Earth will be even more complicated.

"With a weight of 8.2 tons, the lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander," Ye Peijian, a China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. consultant, told state media.

After a massive rocket delivers it lunar orbit, the Chang'e-5 craft will release its lander to the moon's surface, where it will gather samples and place them in a return craft. That craft will then take-off and connect with Chang'e-5, where the samples will be transferred for the trip back to Earth.

In addition to delivering China its first lunar samples, the mission will symbolize the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.'s first lunar launch and unmanned docking in lunar orbit.

China’s last mission to the moon became a social media sensation when it famously “died” in February 2014 and came back to life a few weeks later. Still able to send back data to Earth, the Yutu rover ultimately set the record for longest operating rover on the moon in October 2015.

In addition to the upcoming Moon-sampling mission, China is also planning two more ambitious missions. Late last year, the Chinese space agency said aims to land a probe on the far side of the Moon by late 2018, and launch a Mars probe by 2020.

Meanwhile, at least five organizations are planning to launch Moon missions in 2017 in an attempt to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE. As for NASA, the space agency plans to launch multiple missions to the moon next year.


Image credit: VCG