A Long March 5 carrier rocket is to put the Chang'e-5 lunar probe on course for the moon this month. (Photo by Shi Xiao/For China Daily)
Chang'e 5, the next mission in China's lunar exploration program, will be launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province before the end of this month, according to the China National Space Administration.
Chang'e 5－the sixth mission in the Chang'e program, as there was an unnumbered experimental mission－will be one of the most difficult and challenging space endeavors China has embarked on and will become the world's first space operation in more than four decades to bring lunar samples back to Earth.
Its findings will facilitate scientists' research on the moon's origin and evolution, the administration said in a statement on Tuesday morning, when the Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket, which will be used to lift the robotic probe, was moved to its launch pad at the Wenchang center.
The rocket was transported to a port in Wenchang by ships in late September and was then carried by special trucks to the launch center.
Over the past two months, it was assembled and examined at the center, the administration said, adding that when the final checks are done, propellants will be pumped into it.
The 8.2-metric ton Chang'e 5 has four components－an orbiter, lander, ascender and a reentry module. After the probe reaches lunar orbit, the components will separate into two parts, with the orbiter and reentry module remaining in orbit while the lander and ascender descend toward the lunar surface.
The lander and ascender will make a soft landing and then get to work on tasks such as using a drill to collect underground rocks and a mechanical arm to gather surface soil.
After the surface operations are completed, the ascender's rocket will elevate it to lunar orbit to dock with the reentry module. It will transfer lunar samples to the module, which will bring them back to Earth.
Considering these highly sophisticated operations, Chang'e 5 will be more difficult and challenging than previous Chinese lunar expeditions, designers said.
If the Chang'e 5 mission is successful, it will make China the third nation in the world to bring lunar samples back after the United States and Russia, and will also make Chang'e 5 the world's first lunar sample-return mission since August 1976 when the then Soviet Union's unmanned Luna-24 brought 170.1 grams of lunar samples back to Earth.
In January 2004, the central government approved the lunar exploration program's plan and officially launched its research and development work.
The first Chang'e probe was launched in October 2007. Since then, China has launched four lunar probes and one experimental spacecraft, with Chang'e 3 being the first Chinese spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon's surface.
The latest and most remarkable, the ongoing Chang'e 4 mission, is the first endeavor by any nation to conduct surface observation of the far side of the moon, which never faces Earth, thereby accomplishing a goal sought by scientists for decades.