China lunar mission: Chang’e-5 starts its return journey to bring lunar samples back to Earth

China’s lunar probe Chang’e-5 has taken off from the moon to bring rock samples from the moon back to Earth for the first time in 40 years, according to the country’s space authority. 

Footage sent back from space shows the probe’s ascender blasting off from the lander on the lunar surface.     

The mission’s ascender reached the lunar orbit at 11.10pm Beijing time (3.10pm GMT) carrying the materials collected from the lunar surface, Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) announced late Thursday. 

A CGI picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) simulates the scene of the Chang'e-5 lander-ascender combination separating above the surface of the moon

A CGI picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) simulates the scene of the Chang'e-5 lander-ascender combination separating above the surface of the moon

A CGI picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) simulates the scene of the Chang’e-5 lander-ascender combination separating above the surface of the moon

The picture from CLEP shows the moment the engine of the Chang’e-5 ascender ignites

The ascender’s engine worked for around six minutes to propel the vehicle into the orbit, CLEP claimed in a social media statement

The official agency said that the ascender did not have a mature launching system on the moon, so it had to blast off from the lander. 

The Chang’e-5 lander-ascender combination displayed a Chinese national flag before successfully separating, according to CLEP. 

It added that the spacecraft had completed three stages: vertical liftoff, position changing and orbit entrance.  

The ascender is due to connect with the Chang’e-5 orbit-return combination, which has been waiting in the lunar orbit, and transfer the lunar samples to the return mission.

The latter is expected to bring the materials back to earth at ‘an appropriate’ window of opportunity. 

Beijing’s space officials are yet to specify what type of samples are being sent back or how much they weigh. 

China today released new footage of its lunar probe Chang’e-5 collecting rock samples on the moon. 

The 67-second clip shows a robotic arm picking up a piece of lunar soil before storing it in the lander.  

The Chang’e-5 vehicle had completed its sampling mission ahead of schedule, according to China’s space authority, and is aiming to carry the materials back to Earth before Christmas. 

A video released by CLEP through social media shows a robotic arm picking up a piece of lunar soil before storing it in the lander. The vehicle completed its sampling mission yesterday

A video released by CLEP through social media shows a robotic arm picking up a piece of lunar soil before storing it in the lander. The vehicle completed its sampling mission yesterday

A video released by CLEP through social media shows a robotic arm picking up a piece of lunar soil before storing it in the lander. The vehicle completed its sampling mission yesterday

The Chang'e-5 probe transmitted the footage back to Earth, as well as the data for the entire process of sample collecting and sealing, according to the official Chinese agency

The Chang'e-5 probe transmitted the footage back to Earth, as well as the data for the entire process of sample collecting and sealing, according to the official Chinese agency

The Chang’e-5 probe transmitted the footage back to Earth, as well as the data for the entire process of sample collecting and sealing, according to the official Chinese agency

Chang’e-5 touched down on the moon shortly after 3pm GMT on Tuesday and collected the first lunar samples yesterday afternoon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said.  

The entire mission, set to be completed within 23 days, is the latest venture of an increasingly ambitious Chinese space programme that hopes to eventually land an astronaut on the moon by 2030.

The probe had successfully finished collecting samples by 10pm Beijing time (2pm GMT) on Wednesday after working on the lunar surface for 19 hours, CLEP claimed earlier today.

It had endured high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), said the official agency operated by the CNSA.

A picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) today shows Chang'e-5 collecting samples on the surface of the moon during Beijing's new space exploration mission

A picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) today shows Chang'e-5 collecting samples on the surface of the moon during Beijing's new space exploration mission

A picture released by Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) today shows Chang’e-5 collecting samples on the surface of the moon during Beijing’s new space exploration mission 

This picture, released by CLEP on Wednesday, is taken by a panoramic camera aboard the Chang'e-5 lander-ascender combination after the vehicle landed on the moon successfully

This picture, released by CLEP on Wednesday, is taken by a panoramic camera aboard the Chang'e-5 lander-ascender combination after the vehicle landed on the moon successfully

This picture, released by CLEP on Wednesday, is taken by a panoramic camera aboard the Chang’e-5 lander-ascender combination after the vehicle landed on the moon successfully

Scientists had estimated that the robotic lander would spend about two days drilling into the lunar surface at the landing site in the Oceanus Procellarum – or Ocean of Storms – and collecting two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris.

After the rocks are gathered, the lander will return to orbit and transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth before Christmas, according to plan.

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since a Soviet space mission in 1976.

CLEP noted in an online statement earlier on Thursday that the probe had sealed the samples in an air-tight storage space in the ascender to be transported back to Earth.

Using the data transmitted back from the moon, scientists in a Chinese lab had simulated the entire process of sample collecting and sealing for research purposes, the agency stated.

Chang'e-5 touched down on the moon shortly after 3pm GMT on Tuesday and collected the first lunar samples yesterday afternoon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said

Chang'e-5 touched down on the moon shortly after 3pm GMT on Tuesday and collected the first lunar samples yesterday afternoon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said

Chang’e-5 touched down on the moon shortly after 3pm GMT on Tuesday and collected the first lunar samples yesterday afternoon, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said

Using the data transmitted back to Earth, scientists in a Chinese lab had simulated the entire process of sample collecting and sealing for research purposes, Chinese space officials stated

Using the data transmitted back to Earth, scientists in a Chinese lab had simulated the entire process of sample collecting and sealing for research purposes, Chinese space officials stated

Using the data transmitted back to Earth, scientists in a Chinese lab had simulated the entire process of sample collecting and sealing for research purposes, Chinese space officials stated

The Chang’e-5 probe is said to be equipped with various devices, including a descending camera, a panoramic camera, a detector of the structure of the lunar soil and an analyser of the mineral spectrum on the moon.  

One image released by CLEP yesterday show a barren scene at the landing site, with the lander’s solar panels fully deployed shown in shadow. 

A separate photo, taken by Chang’e-5’s panoramic camera, shows the view of the moon from the lander-ascender combination after it landed on the moon.

A live-streaming video broadcast by China's state TV shows the probe drilling into the moon

A live-streaming video broadcast by China's state TV shows the probe drilling into the moon

A live-streaming video broadcast by China’s state TV shows the probe drilling into the moon 

One image released by the Chinese government on Wednesday show a barren scene at the landing site with the solar panels of the Chang'e-5 lander fully deployed shown in shadow

One image released by the Chinese government on Wednesday show a barren scene at the landing site with the solar panels of the Chang'e-5 lander fully deployed shown in shadow

One image released by the Chinese government on Wednesday show a barren scene at the landing site with the solar panels of the Chang’e-5 lander fully deployed shown in shadow

Chinese samples are expected to be made available to scientists from other nations. However, it is currently unclear how much access NASA will have, given tight US government restrictions on space co-operation with China.

From the rocks, scientists hope to learn more about the moon, including its exact age, as well as increased knowledge about other bodies in our solar system.

The mission has to be completed within one lunar daytime – about 14 Earth days – as the probe is not equipped to withstand the freezing night.

The Chang’e-5 probe set off for the moon on November 24 from Wenchang spaceport in southern China.

American and Russian space officials congratulated the Chinese launch, with NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, describing it as ‘no easy task’.

‘When the samples collected on the moon are returned to Earth, we hope everyone will benefit from being able to study this precious cargo that could advance the international science community,’ he said.

The probe is targeting a 4,265-foot-high volcanic complex called Mons Rumker on the moon’s near side, in a region known as Oceanus Procellarum, which is Latin for Ocean of Storms.

This shows an image taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft during its landing process

This shows an image taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft during its landing process

This shows an image taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft during its landing process

This artists impression shows what the lander would look like on the surface of the Moon as it begins the process of drilling for rock samples

This artists impression shows what the lander would look like on the surface of the Moon as it begins the process of drilling for rock samples

This artists impression shows what the lander would look like on the surface of the Moon as it begins the process of drilling for rock samples

The area is ‘very unusual and nowhere near where we landed before,’ said James Head, professor of geological sciences at Brown University.

‘It raises really important questions, because these samples are actually going to tell us how young the moon had volcanic activity, which is an indication of how recently it has been geologically active, a critical question in the evolution of the planets.’ 

The most recent return of lunar rocks to Earth was carried out in 1976 by Luna 24, a Soviet robot probe and saw about six ounces return to the planet.

US astronauts brought back 382 kilograms (842 pounds) of lunar samples from 1969 to 1972, some of which is still being analysed and experimented on.

The Chang’e-5 flight is China’s third successful lunar landing, following Chang’e-4 that was the first probe to explore the surface of the far side of the moon.

Chinese space programme officials have said they envision future crewed missions along with robotic ones, including possibly a permanent research base.

This shows the Chang'e-5 spacecraft landing on the Moon where it will work to gather rock samples and fly them back to Earth before Christmas

This shows the Chang'e-5 spacecraft landing on the Moon where it will work to gather rock samples and fly them back to Earth before Christmas

This shows the Chang’e-5 spacecraft landing on the Moon where it will work to gather rock samples and fly them back to Earth before Christmas

China has launched its Chang'e-5 probe into space, which will set down on the moon to collect samples from the lunar surface

China has launched its Chang'e-5 probe into space, which will set down on the moon to collect samples from the lunar surface

China has launched its Chang’e-5 probe into space, which will set down on the moon to collect samples from the lunar surface

No timeline or other details have been announced for these future and more ambitious missions – although they will be competing with NASA and others.

NASA plans to send the first woman and the next man to the surface of the moon as early as 2024 and establish a research base over the course of the next decade. 

The latest flight includes collaboration with the European Space Agency, which is helping to monitor the mission.

China’s space programme has proceeded more cautiously than the US-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities and launch failures.

In 2003, China became the third country to send an astronaut into orbit on its own after the Soviet Union and the United States.

It also launched a crewed space station which is currently under development.

CHINA STEPS UP PLANS TO BECOME SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH MARS AND MOON MISSIONS

Officials from the Chinese space agency are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.

They have already sent the first mission to the far side of the Moon – sharing photos from the part of our nearest neighbour we rarely see.

Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the Moon and is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.

Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in an overall mission, according to the Chinese space authority, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.

China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology.

Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project and if it is viable as a scientific base.

The CNSA is also building an Earth-orbiting space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, similar to the crew of the ISS.

The agency is also launching a mission to Mars in summer 2020 which will see them land a rover on the surface of the red planet.

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