Chang'e-5 to probe Moon next year

China plans to launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe next year, which is expected to bring lunar samples back to the Earth.

China plans to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar probe next year, which is expected to bring lunar samples back to the Earth.

While addressing a space conference yesterday, China’s Space Day, Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), said the Chang’e-5 lunar probe will be highly complex, containing four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander.

The lander will put moon samples in a vessel in the ascender after the Moon landing. Then the ascender will take off from the Moon to dock with the orbiter and the returner orbiting the Moon, and transfer the samples to the returner, Pei said.

The orbiter and returner then head back to the Earth, separating from each other several thousands of kilometers from the Earth. Finally, the returner will make its way back to the Earth.

After fulfilling the three steps of its lunar probe program — orbiting, landing and returning — China will conduct further exploration of the Moon, including landing and probing the polar regions of the Moon, said Tian Yulong, the CNSA’s secretary-general.

China will further develop its space industry after the unmanned lunar exploration is accomplished and its own space station is established around 2022.

Many experts have proposed building a scientific research base on the Moon in the future, said Wang Liheng, a senior consultant of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp and an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Manned lunar landing and exploration are a common desire for humanity and a springboard to go deeper into space.

Setting up a scientific research base on the Moon would enable scientists to conduct research, gain experience and lay the foundation for future cosmic exploration, Wang said.

Meanwhile, the relay satellite for the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, expected to land on the far side of the Moon later this year, has been named “Queqiao” — magpie bridge.

The name was announced by the CNSA yesterday.

In Chinese mythology, magpies form a bridge with their wings on the seventh night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar to enable Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, to cross and meet her beloved husband, separated from her by the Milky Way.

Together with the relay satellite, two microsatellites developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology, Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2, will also be sent into orbit.

Work on Chang’e-4 is progressing well, said Li Guoping, a CNSA spokesman. Chang’e-4 will carry payloads for Germany, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Sweden.

The far side of the Moon is of great scientific interest but landing there requires a relay satellite to transmit signals.

One of China’s planned 36 launches this year, the relay satellite will be sent into the halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2 in late May, and the Chang’e-4 lunar lander and rover will be sent to the Aitken Basin of the south pole region of the Moon about six months later. 

The Aitken Basin is an ancient lunar region containing considerable primeval information.

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