Chang’e 5 mission: China’s moon probe seals lunar rocks and soil in airtight capsules for return to Earth

05-Dec-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

The Chang’e 5 mission finished collecting moon rocks on Wednesday night in China’s first attempt at a sample-return lunar mission, according to the China National Space Administration.

The probe packed and sealed the lunar samples after a 19-hour operation following its soft landing on Tuesday night. Running on a solar battery, the spacecraft had two days to gather rocks and lunar dust from the surface as well as drilling underground for samples.

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“To make sure that the lunar samples are kept airtight and unaffected by the external environment during the journey back to Earth, the probe sealed the samples on the moon surface,” the space agency said.

“The lunar soil structure detector on the lander and other equipment operated normally and carried out the explorations as planned.”

If successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon, after the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s.

The US Apollo programme brought 382kg (840 pounds) of lunar rocks and soil back to Earth over six moon-landing missions, and the former Soviet Union retrieved a little over 300 grams of lunar samples from three missions.

The Chinese lander was expected to drill as deep as 2 metres (6.6 feet) for rock cores and collect 2kg of surface samples in its protective capsules.

After 11pm on Tuesday Beijing time, the Chang’e 5 spacecraft’s moon lander and ascender vehicle landed on the near side of the moon in an area of relatively recent volcanic activities dating from about 1.2 billion years ago.

The area has a younger rock surface and these samples are expected to contain information about the more recent history of the moon compared with previous lunar samples collected by the Americans and Soviets.

The surface sampling and packing system transported on the Chang’e 5 lander was developed by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

It includes two samplers that can withstand 200 degrees Celsius (392 degrees Fahrenheit) for collecting loose and sticky lunar regolith samples, two heat-resistant near-field cameras and a packaging and sealing system to store samples in a container, according to the university.

After collecting the samples, a robot arm will lift the container and place it into the ascender, which will then lift off into the lunar orbit, dock with the orbiter and transfer the sample container to the return vehicle.

The mission is expected to land in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia in mid-December.


Category: China

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