Chang'e-5 mission: how China managed to land a probe on the moon

China has just successfully taken another probe to the moon.


The Chang'e-5 robotic mission landed a few hours ago on lunar soil and aims to collect samples of rock and dust to bring them back to Earth.

The venture targets a site called Mons Rümker, a volcanic complex in a nearby region known as Oceanus Procellarum.The spacecraft's landing module should spend the next few days examining its surroundings and gathering materials from the lunar surface.The intention is to pack about 2 kilos of materials, which will then be sent to a module that can transport the samples to Earth.

It has been 44 years since that same goal was last achieved. This occurred in the Soviet Luna 24 mission, which took just under 200 grams of lunar products.

Scientific benefit
Unlike the launch of the mission, which took place a week ago, the landing was not broadcast live on Chinese television channels.It was only after the arrival on the Moon was confirmed that they interrupted normal TV programming to broadcast the latest news.Images captured during the descent were quickly released. In the final sections, it is possible to see one of the probe's structures casting a shadow on the lunar surface.The United States space agency congratulated China. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's chief science officer, said he hoped that the entire international research community would eventually have a chance to analyze the samples brought in.

"When the samples collected on the Moon are returned to Earth, we hope that everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo, which could mean an advance for the international scientific community," he tweeted.The Chang'e-5 spacecraft weighs 8.2 tonnes and was launched from the Wenchang base in southern China on 24 November. It approached the Moon over the weekend and then started to enter its orbit before dividing into two parts.

Half of the equipment - a service vehicle and the return module - remained in orbit, while another segment was prepared for an attempted landing.The Chinese space agency said this second module landed at 12:11 pm Brasília time (11:11 pm in China). The spacecraft's precise position was reported as 51.8 degrees west longitude and 43.1 degrees north latitude.

The success of the Chang'e-5 mission follows China's two previous Moon landings - known as Chang'e-3 in 2013 and Chang'e-4 last year. Both missions incorporated a static landing module and a small vehicle.About 400 kilograms of rock and soil were recovered by American astronauts from the Apollo missions and by the Soviet robotic program Luna. The vast majority of these materials arrived on Earth thanks to manned missions.

But all of these samples were very old - by calculations, they are more than three billion years old. The materials found in the Mons Rümker region, on the other hand, promise to be no more than 1.2 or 1.3 billion years old. And that should provide additional information about the Moon's geological history.The samples will also allow scientists to more accurately calibrate the "chronometer" they use to understand how the surfaces of the planets in the Solar System age.

Currently, this process is done through the number of craters found. The more craters, the older the surface. But this method can lead to several doubts about the "age" of several places analyzed. The material that will be brought by Chang'e-5 will contribute to better understand this scenario.China's reports suggest that the effort to take lunar samples should take a few days. Afterwards, these recovered materials will be taken into orbit and transferred to the service vehicle and the return to Earth module.

The trip back to our planet must end with a landing on the pastures of Siziwang Banner, in the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia, China. This is the place that Chinese astronauts also use to land on their return."Chang'e-5 is a very complex mission," commented James Carpenter, coordinator of science for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency.

"I find it extremely impressive what they are trying to do. And the most fascinating thing is that you see this approach very systematic, which increases exploration capabilities. It comes from the first Chang'e missions to the last one."

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