China lands on Moon after causing deep confusion by stopping broadcast

Eight days after launching from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China, the nation’s… The post China lands on Moon after causing deep confusion by stopping broadcast appeared first on NASASpaceFlight.com.

China lands on Moon after causing deep confusion by stopping broadcast

Eight days after launching from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in southern China, the nation’s Chang’e 5 mission has landed at Mons Rümker on the Moon to collect approximately 2 kg of material for near-immediate return to Earth.

The Chang’e 5 lander began final descent at 09:58 EST (14:58 UTC) with an expected touchdown 15 minutes later at 10:13 EST (15:13 UTC).

All broadcasts of the event were abruptly stopped just before the landing burn was to begin — throwing the mission into question with CCTV in China at first saying landing coverage would resume at 21:00 EST — an 11 hour delay to the landing.  Minutes later, official sources — via social media — proclaimed a successful landing.

The supposed-to-be highly public landing on the lunar surface came after a successful launch on 23 November, which was followed by a Trans-Lunar Injection burn and then three trajectory course corrections on the 24th, 25th, and 27th. 

The first of two Lunar Orbit Insertion burns was successfully accomplished on 28 November at 13:06 UTC before a second on 29 November at 12:34 UTC circularized the orbit above the Moon’s surface.

This placed the combined Orbiter and Lander components in the correct orbit for spacecraft separation, which occurred successfully at 20:40 UTC on 29 November.

On 30 November, the Lander began a series of burns to lower its orbit to allow for a landing today at Mons Rümker.

The 15 minute descent to the lunar surface will be automated, with controllers back in China monitoring the progress of the Lander as it lowers itself toward the lunar surface.

While landing on another celestial body is difficult, China has a good track record for successfully getting probes to the Moon — with the nation’s previous four lunar missions all being successful, including two landings.

If all goes to plan, and Chang’e 5 successfully touches down on the Moon, it will begin its lunar surface operations just 2 hours after landing when it deploys its subsurface drill to begin breaking through the top layer of the lunar surface.

Drilling will allow the mission to obtain samples from 2 meters below the immediate lunar surface.

That drilling and subsurface collection operation (which will begin just 2 hours 2 minutes after touchdown), will continue for about 2.5 hours.

If that subsurface operation is successful, scooping of lunar surface material will then follow over a 22 hour period, beginning 11 hours after touchdown. 

Overall, about 2 kg of lunar material is expected to be scooped from both the surface and subsurface locations.

Under the original plan, the samples were to be secured inside of the Ascent Stage, which will then be configured for a launch from the lunar surface on 3 December 2020 at 15:10 UTC. 

After ascending into low lunar orbit, the Ascent Stage will deploy its solar arrays 17 minutes after liftoff before going on to perform a series of four phasing burns on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of December before rendezvousing with the Orbiter on 5 December.

The Ascent Stage will then dock to the Orbiter on 5 December at 21:40 UTC.  After docking, the collected samples will be transferred to the return capsule just 21 minutes later.

European tracking stations for the Chang’e 5 mission. (Credit: ESA)

If the pre-mission timeline is followed, the Return Capsule will reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a landing in Dorbod Banner, Inner Mongolia, People’s Republic of China on 16 December, concluding the planned 23-day Chang’e 5 mission. 

During reentry, the European Maspalomas tracking station in the Canary Islands, Spain, will monitor the craft as it heads toward Mongolia.  European tracking stations will also monitor the descent to and landing on the Moon today using a tracking station at the Guiana Space Centre near Kourou, French Guiana.

If the samples are returned safely, it will mark the first time China will have accomplished a lunar sample return, with China becoming only the third nation to do so (the others being the Soviet Union and the United States).

It will also mark the first time since the Luna 24 mission of the Soviet Union in 1976 that lunar material has been returned to Earth.

The Chang’e lander, meanwhile, will be left on the surface of the Moon and continue to function through the remaining 10-ish days of daylight at Mons Rümker.

Unlike Chang’e 4, which was equipped to survive the lunar night, Chang’e 5 does not carry that equipment, and the lander will cease operation shortly after nightfall at its landing site.

This compressed timeline is why the sample collection process will begin so quickly after landing — so that if any issues present, control teams in China can troubleshoot and attempt to recover over the immediately following days.

Lead image: Chang’e 5 animation. Credit: CNSA

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