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China Plans to Bring Back the First Moon Rocks in 40 Years

Accepted submission by martyb at 2020-11-21 03:09:42
Science

+News

China plans to bring back the first Moon rocks for 40 years [economist.com]:

Chang’e 5, scheduled for launch around November 24th, is intended to drill two metres down into the Moon’s surface, retrieve about 2kg of rock, and then return this to Earth. If successful, it will be the first lunar sample-return mission since 1976, when a Soviet probe called Luna 24 sent back a mere 170g of the stuff. And it will be another step forward in China’s space programme.

The Chang’e missions, named after a Chinese Moon goddess, have had their ups and downs. Chang’e 5 was originally scheduled for blast off in 2017, but the failure in July of that year of an otherwise-unrelated project that was, like Chang’e 5, using a Long March 5 as its launch vehicle, caused a delay. (Chang’e 4 used a different sort of launcher, a Long March 3B.) The “go” does, however, now seem to have been given. State media reported on November 17th that the rocket with Chang’e 5 on board has been moved to its launch pad at Wenchang space centre, on Hainan island.

Assuming the launch goes to plan, success will then depend on a complex ballet involving the craft’s four components. These are a service module, a return-to-Earth module, a lunar lander and an ascender—a configuration originally used by America’s Apollo project. Once the mission is in lunar orbit, the lander and the ascender will separate from the orbiting mother ship of service and return modules as a single unit and go down to the surface. The landing site is in the northern part of a vast expanse of basalt called Oceanus Procellarum, a previously unvisited area. Researchers hope rocks collected here will confirm that volcanic activity on the Moon continued until far more recently than the 3.5bn years ago that is the estimate derived from studies of currently available samples.

Once the new material has been gathered, which will take several days, the ascender will lift off, dock with the mother ship and transfer its haul to the return module. The service module will then carry the return module back to Earth, releasing it just before arrival to make a landing at a recovery site in Inner Mongolia, also used for China’s crewed missions, in December.

I wonder if this will this put another nail in the coffin of the exorbitantly-expensive SLS (Space Launch System [wikipedia.org]) or be leveraged to increase its funding?


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