China is reportedly set for a mission to launch an unmanned spacecraft, known as the Chang’e-5 probe, to the Moon and retrieve lunar rocks from its surface. The upcoming mission will be the 1st attempt of the country to bring back highly-treasured rock samples in over 45 years. The collected material will help scientists gain more knowledge about its origins.
The launch of Chang’e-5 probe is expected to take place in the next 48-72 hours, which will test the ability to acquire samples remotely from space, prior to conducting more complex missions. If the mission is deemed successful, China will become the 3rd country to have retrieved these lunar samples, after the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
In the Apollo program, which was the 1st mission to launch men to the Moon, the U.S. landed 12 astronauts in over 6 flights during 1969-1972, collecting 842-lbs of soil and rocks. Moreover, in the 1970s, the Soviet Union deployed 3 robotic sample-return missions. The latest probe program from China will attempt to retrieve above 4-lbs of samples from ‘Ocean of Storms’ and Oceanus Procellarum.
In addition, the new mission is expected to help clarify several queries such as the time period when the magnetic field of the Moon gets dissipated or how long it remained volcanically active in the interior.
Once the probe has reached the orbit, it will deploy a pair of vehicles, a lander and ascender, to its surface. The lander will drill and transfer the rock & soil sample to the ascender, which will be lifted off and docked with an orbiting module. After the successful lifting, the samples will then be transferred to a capsule to return them to Earth.
Furthermore, China is planning to develop a robotic base station and explore the south polar region with an unmanned spacecraft. It is likely to be developed via the Chang'e-67 and 8 missions in the 2020s & expanded through the 2030s. By 2030, the country is also planning to retrieve samples from Mars.