China moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth

03 Décembre, 2020, 22:37 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Chang'e-5

China's Chang'e 5 space module has left the moon after completing its mission to gather rock samples, the official Chinese new agency Xinhua reports.

The Chinese mission aims to bring moon samples back to earth for the first time in 44 years.

A Chinese lunar rover landed on the far side of the Moon in January 2019 in a global first that boosted Beijing's aspirations to become a space superpower.

The samples will be returned to Earth in a capsule programmed to land in northern China's Inner Mongolia region, according to U.S. space agency NASA. The timing off its return was not immediately clear and the lander can last up to one moon day, or 14 Earth days, before plummeting temperatures would make it inoperable.

Its ascender module lifted off from the lunar surface shortly after 11 p.m. Beijing time Thursday (1500 GMT) and was to connect with its return vehicle in lunar orbit and transfer the samples to the capsule, according to the China National Space Administration.

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Chang'e is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 meters (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues into the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

While retrieving samples is its main task, the lander is also equipped to extensively photograph the area surrounding its landing site, map conditions below the surface with ground penetrating radar and analyze the lunar soil for minerals and water content.

The only other countries to have done so are the United States and the Soviet Union. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

China launched its first satellite in 1970, while human spaceflight took decades longer - with Yang Liwei becoming China's first "taikonaut" in 2003.

While China is boosting cooperation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by US concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.

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