Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chang'e-5 lunar sample mission on for 2017

Chang'e-5 ascent stage
A preliminary notional view of the Chang'e-5 ascent stage on departure from the lunar surface. Officials of China's Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) have confirmed the sample return mission is scheduled for 2017.
Global Times (Beijing) -China has announced the next step in its lunar exploration program will be carried out by a new moon probe, Chang'e-5, expected to launch in 2017.

This follows the successful soft-landing of the Chang'e-3 probe on the lunar surface Saturday evening.

"The research and development of Chang'e-5 is proceeding smoothly at present and we expect it to be finished and ready to launch in 2017," announced Wu Zhijian, spokesman for the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense at a press conference Monday.

The third and final stage of the unmanned missions to sample the lunar surface is expected to be completed by 2020, using the Chang'e-5 and 6 lunar probes, which will be able to return samples to Earth, said Wu.

This is also the last phase of the China Lunar Exploration Program as a part of the National Guideline for Medium and Long-term Plan for Science and Technology Development (2006-20) issued by the State Council in 2006.

China has completed the first two phases of the program, said Wu.

The first phase was achieved when the Chang'e-1 lunar orbiter launched in 2007, while the second phase was marked as complete when the Chang'e-3 lunar probe and its moon rover separated and took photos of each other on the extraterrestrial body on Sunday.

By Monday morning, five of the eight exploratory devices on Chang'e-3 had been put into operation to survey the lunar surface topography and geology, said Zou Yongliao, an engineer from the Chinese Academy of Sciences

LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) monochrome (604 nm) mosaic of a 35.7 km-wide parcel of the Laplace F - Le Verrier region in north central Mare Imbrium, marking the December 14, 2013 landing site of China's Chang'e-3. From a 200 km-long field of view swept up in three sequential orbits, December 5, 2011; a sunrise angle of incidence of 76° at 61.5 meters resolution, from 44.7 km [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
"The program's third phase will be more difficult because many breakthroughs must be made in key technologies such as lift-off from the moon's surface, sampling encapsulation, rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, and high-speed Earth re-entry, which are all new to China," said Wu.

The Chang'e-4 probe, which served as a backup for Chang'e-3, will now be used to test the new techniques for the mission's third phase.

Scale model Yutu
Scale model of the six-wheeled robotic moon rover 'Yutu' (Jade Rabbit), without the, by-now familiar, gold foil thermal blankets. Picture taken at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center [Xinhua].
In response to questions of international cooperation concerning lunar exploration, Wu noted that China is always positive in maintaining good cooperation with other regions and organizations. Data collected through the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 probes is accessible to scientists from across the world, according to Wu.

Wu pointed out that China's exploration will follow the consistent aim of the peaceful use of outer space, which will promote new breakthroughs in high-technology development.

"Despite our current progress, China still lags behind space giants like the US and Russia in many aspects. We need to work harder and move faster," Wu said.

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