After 112 hours of flight, the Chang’e 5 space probe has reached the Moon. The mission began on November 23. The spacecraft was launched on the largest currently used Chinese launcher, the Long March 5.

Chang’e 5 circles the Moon on an initial orbit

The goal of the most ambitious Chinese lunar mission so far will be to bring back as much as two kilograms of soil samples. Previous lunar samples were brought back in 1976 by the Soviet Luna 24 spacecraft. The samples will be collected from the volcanic Mons Rümker formation in the Ocean of Storms. It is a 1,100 meter high hill with a diameter of 70 kilometers.

Five days after lift-off, the Chang’e 5 spacecraft reached the vicinity of the Moon and fired its engines 400 kilometers above its surface. The engines ran for about seventeen minutes. This maneuver slowed down the probe’s speed, allowing it to be intercepted by the Moon’s gravity field.

Elliptic orbit of Chang'e 5 / CCTV
Elliptic orbit of Chang’e 5 / CCTV

A successful entry into orbit has already been confirmed by Chinese sources. Chang’e 5 currently orbits the Moon every eight hours in an elliptical orbit. On Sunday, November 29, it is to refire its engines to enter a circular orbit 217 kilometers above the surface. Then the landing section will separate from the orbital part of the probe.

Follow on stages to the mission

The Chinese CCTV broadcasts showed screens from mission control suggesting that the landing will take place on the same day around 2130 CET. In next steps the lander will gather samples and launch them back into lunar orbit. According to the mission schedule, this will take place on December 1st. After that, the ascent part has to dock to the orbiter. Following a successful connection the spacecraft will fire its engines and fly towards the Earth.

Video render showing the docking of the ascent section to the orbiter / CNSA

In all this, we should remember that this is the most difficult Chinese lunar mission so far. It is also the first attempt of China to return samples from another celestial body. Many more “surprises” may yet happen. But for now, we keep our fingers crossed!


Twitter: Andrew Jones

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