Tech Breakdown: What makes China's Chang'e-5 lunar mission special?

China Moon Mission Will Try To Bring Back The First Lunar Rocks In Decades

China set for moon launch in historic mission to collect rocks from the lunar surface

"The Chang Zheng 5 carrier rocket launched from Wenchang successfully put the Chang'e 5 lunar research vehicle into the designated orbit after about 2,200 seconds of flight", the CNSA said after the launch. The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-5 rocket at 4.30 am (Beijing Time).

The Chang'e-5 mission, named after the ancient Chinese goddess of the moon, will seek to collect lunar material to help scientists understand more about the moon's origins and formation.

The United States, which now has plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, landed 12 astronauts there in its Apollo programme over six flights from 1969 to 1972, and brought back 382 kg (842 pounds) of rocks and soil.

The China National Space Administration calls this one of the most "challenging endeavors China has ever embarked on".

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.

Chang'e-5, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, with a total take-off mass of 8.2 tonnes, is expected to accomplish unmanned rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, a complicated feat.

The material would be transferred to the ascender vehicle first, which would carry it from the surface and then dock with an orbiting module.

The plan is for the lander to drill into the lunar surface, with a robotic arm scooping out soil and rocks. The samples will be sealed into a container in the spacecraft.

The samples will then be transferred to the returner. Live-streamed footage from the launch shows the Chinese teams and engineers applauding in the control room when the boosters fell away from each side of the rocket, and again when the spacecraft separated from the rocket in orbit.

The sample will travel to Earth in the return capsule and land in the Siziwang Banner grassland of the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China.

As we wait for updates from the lunar probe, let's check out what makes the Chang'e-5 mission special.

While the USA has followed China's successes closely, it's unlikely to expand cooperation with China in space amid political suspicions, a sharpening military rivalry and accusations of Chinese theft of technology, experts say.

The aim of the programme is for China to acquire the basic technologies of unmanned lunar exploration with limited investment, Pei said. It can only stay one lunar daytime, or about 14 days, because it lacks the radioisotope heating units that China's current lunar rover, the Chang'e 4, possesses to withstand the moon's freezing nights. If successful, it would be a major advance for China's space program, and some experts say it could pave the way for bringing samples back from Mars or even a crewed lunar mission. That would the first opportunity scientists have had to study newly obtained lunar material since the American and Russian missions of the 1960s and 1970s. "It will be very hard", said Peng Jing, deputy chief designer of the Chang'e-5 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Some portions of the area were explored by other missions, including NASA's Apollo 12 in 1969.

"That is very young for the moon - most of our samples are 3.5 billion years old or more", Siegler said in an email.

The mission is on a tight deadline because Chang'e 5 lander is solar-powered and won't be able to operate at night.

The landing site of Chang'e-5 will be to the west of that of Chang'e-3, which went to the moon in 2013.

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