Moon Mis­sions

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Edited by Hu Zhoumeng

The moon has main­tained a cen­tral role in Chi­nese cul­ture since an­cient times. Not only has it in­spired nu­mer­ous po­ets, but also gen­er­ated time­less myths and le­gends, the most fa­mous of which is about a beauty named Chang’e who re­sides on the moon with a jade rab­bit and her hus­band Houyi, who shot down nine of ten suns.

Far from an­cient imag­i­na­tion, world sci­en­tists have been pour­ing re­sources into solv­ing mys­ter­ies of the ball of rock 239,000 miles from Earth, hop­ing to gain a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the only nat­u­ral satel­lite of Earth and de­vise ways to ex­ploit it. Chi­nese ex­perts have played a big role with a mis­sion named af­ter Chang’e.

Closer Touch

China launched two lu­nar or­biters, Chang’e-1 in 2007 and Chang’e-2 in 2010. With the Chang’e-3 mis­sion in 2013, China be­came the third coun­try, af­ter the for­mer Soviet Union and the United States, to soft land on the sur­face of the moon. Later this year, the heavy-lift car­rier rocket Long March-5 is sup­posed to take the Chang’e-5 lu­nar probe to space from the Wen­chang Space Launch Cen­ter on south­ern China’s Hainan Is­land. Liftoff will her­ald the dawn of the third phase of China’s lu­nar pro­gram: Re­turn af­ter or­bit­ing and land­ing.

The Chang’e-5 probe, de­signed by the Chi­nese Academy of Space Tech­nol­ogy, is China’s first un­manned space­craft de­signed to per­form lu­nar sam­pling. It will make China the third coun­try to bring lu­nar sam­ples to Earth and the first in over four decades since the for­mer Soviet Union’s Luna-24 mis­sion in 1976. The Chang’e-5 mis­sion could be tremen­dously sig­nif­i­cant for sci­ence and serve as a valu­able test for fu­ture manned lu­nar mis­sions.

The re­turn of the Chang’e-5 probe re­quires delicate co­or­di­na­tion be­tween four sys­tems that com­prise the eight-ton ve­hi­cle: an or­biter, a re­turner, an as­cen­der and a lan­der. The lan­der will put moon sam­ples in a ves­sel in the as­cen­der af­ter the moon land­ing. Then the as­cen­der will take off from the moon, dock with the or­biter and then trans­fer sam­ples to the re­turn mod­ule. The or­biter and re­turner will then head back to Earth. Fi­nally, the re­turner will re- en­ter the at­mos­phere.

The mis­sion will mark sev­eral firsts in China’s lu­nar pro­gram upon com­ple­tion: first au­to­mated moon sur­face sam­pling, first moon take-off, first un­manned dock­ing in lu­nar or­bit about 380,000 kilo­me­ters from Earth and first re­turn flight at a speed near sec­ond cos­mic ve­loc­ity, notes China Aero­space Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy Cor­po­ra­tion (CASC).

China also plans to launch the Chang’e- 4 lu­nar probe around 2018 to achieve mankind’s first soft land­ing on the dark side of the moon and con­duct rov­ing de­tec­tion and re­lay com­mu­ni­ca­tions

at Earth-moon L2 point, ac­cord­ing to the China Na­tional Space Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Min­ing Trea­sure

Chi­nese lu­nar knowl­edge can be traced back to the days when farm­ers changed their ac­tiv­i­ties ac­cord­ing to the moon’s phases to im­prove agri­cul­tural har­vests.

Over cen­turies, abun­dant sci­en­tific work help­ful to hu­mankind has been achieved thanks to lu­nar ex­plo­ration. Decades ago, the United States made an early move with NASA’S Us$25.4-bil­lion Apollo pro­gram that pro­duced mul­ti­ple new tech­nolo­gies for aero­space, mil­i­tary, ma­te­rial and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sciences.

As the Chang’e mis­sions have been im­ple­mented, China has gen­er­ated new knowl­edge with up­dated full-moon images and ge­o­log­i­cal and 3D to­po­graphic maps. Its re­search on lu­nar soil and spa­tial en­vi­ron­ment also pro­duced fas­ci­nat­ing re­sults.

Th­ese days, a lu­nar probe is ex­pected to of­fer solutions for hu­mans to bat­tle cli­mate change and ex­plore new en­ergy. “The moon’s sur­face is a rich pool of Helium-3, a good source of clean en­ergy that could meet the world’s en­ergy de­mands for gen­er­a­tions,” re­marked Ouyang Ziyuan, chief sci­en­tist of China’s lu­nar probe pro­gram. “Lu­nar probes could help solve en­ergy prob­lems, and it is the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity of the world’s sci­en­tific com­mu­nity to work to­wards that end.”

“In­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion al­ways en­hances the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of both agen­cies, which is again the case for our long-term co­op­er­a­tion with China in the area of track­ing and op­er­a­tions,” said Paolo Ferri, head of the Mis­sion Op­er­a­tions De­part­ment at the Euro­pean Space Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre. The Euro­pean Space Agency of­fered sup­port to the Chang’e mis­sions. Fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and Euro­pean coun­tries in­clud­ing Ger­man, France, Swe­den and the Nether­lands is in the works.

November 1, 2014: Chang'e- 5 T1's Earth re- en­try mod­ule lands safely in a des­ig­nated area of the In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, mark­ing the suc­cess of the re- en­try flight test as part of the third phase of China's lu­nar probe pro­gram. VCG

May 23, 2017: Vis­i­tors look at a model of the Chang'e- 5 probe at a sci­en­tific ex­hi­bi­tion in Beijing. IC

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