Chang’e 5 lands on moon, starts surface operations

At the climax of a landmark mission, China’s Chang’e 5 robotic lunar probe has started gathering lunar rocks and soil after landing on the moon late on Tuesday night.

Chang’e 5 is expected to work for about two days in a region to the north of Mons Ruemker, a mountain overlooking a vast lunar mare called Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms, on the western edge of the moon’s near side. After the surface operations are completed, it will bring about 2 kilograms of lunar samples back to Earth in mid-December, 44 years after the last substances from the moon were returned to Earth, according to the China National Space Administration.

As the landing procedures began as scheduled at 10:57 pm, the lander-ascender combination of the 8.2-metric ton Chang’e 5 started its 7,500-newton-thrust engine to reduce its flying speed and began to descend toward the moon from about 15 kilometers above the lunar surface.

When the lander-ascender reached an altitude of 2.5 km, it conducted a rapid positional adjustment and continued approaching the lunar surface.

During the engine-assisted process, cameras on the lander-ascender took pictures of the landing site and transmitted them to computers to identify possible hazards on the surface such as large rocks so the craft could maneuver to avoid them.

The lander-ascender suspended its descent when it was about 100 meters from the moon and hovered for a short time to carry out accurate detection of obstacles before continuing to descend at a slower, steady speed.

At the last moment of the challenging operation when the craft was several meters above the surface, its engine stopped and it touched down on the lunar surface at 11:11 pm, becoming the third spacecraft to successfully land on the moon in the 21st century. The other two craft that had achieved this feat-Chang’e 3 and 4-were also from China.

After landing, it embarked on tasks such as using a technically advanced drill to retrieve rocks from 2 meters beneath the lunar surface and gathering soil from the surface with a mechanical arm.

China’s largest and most sophisticated lunar probe, Chang’e 5 was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on Nov 24 at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, undertaking the world’s first mission since 1976 to return lunar samples to Earth.

The spacecraft has four components-an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a reentry capsule.

Before landing, Chang’e 5 separated into two parts-the orbiter-reentry capsule combination and the lander-ascender combination-early on Monday morning.

While the lander-ascender has started surface operations, the orbiter-reentry capsule is in lunar orbit at an average altitude of about 200 km above the moon, according to the space administration.

After the collection and packing operations are completed, a 3,000-newton-thrust engine on the ascender will lift it to rendezvous and dock with the reentry module. It will transfer the lunar samples to the module and then separate from it.

If the mission is successful, it will make China the third nation to bring samples back from the moon, after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

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