Chinese moon probe begins return to Earth with lunar samples

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese lunar probe lifted off from the moon Thursday night with a cargo of lunar samples on the first stage of its return to Earth, the government space agency reported, on what is expected to be a breakthrough mission for the rising Asian space power.

Chang’e 5, the third Chinese spacecraft to land on the moon and the first to take off from it again, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a spacecraft en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

READ MORE: 3 questions after the discovery of water molecules on the sunlit moon

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side, on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

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. The moon rocks and debris were sealed inside a special canister to avoid contamination.

Chang’e 5’s lander module, which remained on the moon, is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 meters (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues to the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

Upon takeoff, the lander unfurled what the space administration called the first free-standing Chinese flag on the lunar surface.

While retrieving samples was 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.

Chang’e 5′s return module is supposed to touch down on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft have made their returns since China first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third country do so after Russia and the United States.

Chang’e 5 has revived talk of China one day sending a crewed mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.

READ MORE: Asteroid samples tucked into capsule for return to Earth

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

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

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China Moon Mission: Chang’e-5 Launches, Starting Trip Back to Earth

Two days after it landed on the moon, China’s Chang’e-5 mission is on its way again, blasting off back to space, the beginning of its journey back to Earth ferrying a bounty of soil and rocks for scientists to study.

The top half of the lander launched at 10:10 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday, according to the China National Space Administration. Footage posted by Chinese state media showed the flash of the spacecraft’s engine as it headed to orbit, an ascent that took about six minutes.

It was the first time any spacecraft had launched from the lunar surface since the end of the Cold War moon race in 1976, and the first Chinese spacecraft to ever blast off from another world in the solar system.

The lander set down on Tuesday in a region of the moon known as Mons Rümker. The spacecraft was in the middle of a basalt lava plain that is about two billion years younger than the parts of the moon explored more than four decades ago by NASA’s Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna landers. Images from the spacecraft show a desolate landscape with gentle rolling hills, a sign of its youth.

Within hours of arriving on the moon, Chang’e-5 set about drilling and scooping its lunar samples — perhaps more than four pounds.

Scientists are curious how this region remained molten far longer than the rest of the moon. Examination of these rocks in laboratories on Earth will also pin down their exact age, and that will calibrate a method that planetary scientists use to determine the ages of the surfaces of planets, moons and other bodies throughout the solar system.

The spacecraft’s departure is the first step in a complex sequence to return the rocks to Earth.

After it arrived in lunar orbit over the weekend, Chang’e-5 split into two. While the lander headed for the surface, the other half remained in orbit.

The ascent portion of the lander is to rendezvous and dock with the piece that remained in orbit. The rocks and soil will be transferred to a return capsule for a trip back to Earth, parachuting to a landing in Inner Mongolia later this month.

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Moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth

BEIJING (AP) — China’s latest lunar probe has finished taking samples of the moon’s surface and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, the government announced Thursday.

The Chang’e 5, the third Chinese probe to land on the moon, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a probe en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

The probe “has completed sampling on the moon, and the samples have been sealed within the spacecraft,” the China National Space Administration said in a statement.


Plans call for the upper stage of the probe to be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth.

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China collects moon samples to study on Earth

“Chang’e has collected moon samples,” the agency said in a statement.

The probe, launched November 24 from the island of Hainan, is the latest venture by the space program that sent China’s first astronaut into orbit in 2003. Beijing also has a spacecraft headed to Mars and aims to land a human on the moon.

This week’s landing is “a historic step in China’s cooperation with the international community in the peaceful use of outer space,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

“China will continue to promote international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind,” Hua said.

Plans call for the lander to spend two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 4.4 pounds of rocks and debris. The top stage of the probe will be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule to take back to Earth, where it is to land in China’s northern grasslands in mid-December.

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976.

The samples are expected to be made available to scientists from other nations, although it is unclear how much access NASA will have due to U.S. government restrictions on cooperation with China’s military-linked program.

From the rocks and debris, scientists hope to learn more about the moon, including its precise age, as well as increased knowledge about other bodies in our solar system. Collecting samples, including from asteroids, is an increasing focus of many space programs.

Chinese space program officials have said they envision future crewed missions along with robotic ones, including possibly a permanent research base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

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Watch the Moon Landing of China’s Chang’e-5 Spacecraft

China released video footage on Wednesday showing the arrival of its Chang’e-5 robotic spacecraft on the moon’s surface. Racing across a landscape sprinkled with craters on Tuesday, the camera pauses momentarily before a breathtaking fall begins. An instant later, a splash of moon dust and a shadow of the lander signaled that the probe’s touchdown was a success.

“Very precise and exciting landing, right in the middle of the most important geologic unit in the broader Chang’e 5 candidate landing region,” James W. Head III, a geological science professor at Brown University, said in an email. Dr. Head collaborated with Chinese scientists on where the mission should go to gather rocks and soil to bring back to Earth.

The lander set down, as planned, in a region of the moon known as Mons Rümker, at 10:11 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday. The spacecraft is in the middle of a basalt lava plain that is about two billion years younger than the parts of the moon explored more than four decades ago by NASA’s Apollo astronauts and the Soviet Union’s robotic Luna landers.

Within hours of arriving on the moon, Chang’e-5 set about drilling and scooping its lunar samples.

Images from Chang’e-5 show a desolate landscape with gentle rolling hills. A dearth of nearby craters points to the area’s youth.

Scientists are curious how this region remained molten far longer than the rest of the moon. Examination of these rocks in laboratories on Earth will also pin down their exact age, and that will calibrate a method that planetary scientists use to determine the ages of the surfaces of planets, moons and other bodies throughout the solar system.

The lander has already completed its drilling and stored the sample. It continues scooping up some soil around the spacecraft. Once that is complete, the top of half of the lander will blast back off into space as soon as Thursday. That will be the start of a complex sequence to return the rocks to Earth.

After it arrived in lunar orbit over the weekend, Chang’e-5 split into two. While the lander headed for the surface, the other half remained in orbit.

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Watch China spacecraft land on the moon in this amazing video

A spectacular video from China’s Chang’e 5 lander spacecraft revealsits successful touchdown on the moon as it  softly set down to collect the first lunar samples in 44 years.



China's Chang'e 5 moon lander captures these views of its descent to the lunar surface on Dec. 1, 2020.


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China’s Chang’e 5 moon lander captures these views of its descent to the lunar surface on Dec. 1, 2020.

The 49-second, sped-up video was captured by a camera underneath the Chang’e 5 lander as it passed over the vast Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) while aiming for a safe landing site on Tuesday  (Dec. 1). The black-and-white footage shows peaks on the horizon before the spacecraft moves into a vertical position to begin its powered descent onto the surface. Another video, released by China’s CCTV news network, shows Chang’e 5’s sample-collection arm drilling into the lunar surface as it collected samples. (We combined them into one in the video above.)

In pictures: China on the moon! A history of Chinese lunar missions 

In the descent video, craters of all sizes appear and disappear as the lander slows its fall. With all of this taking place around 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers) away and signals taking two seconds to travel from the Earth and back, the process needed to be automated. 

Chang’e 5 used a gamma ray altimeter to gauge the distance to the surface and optical and laser systems to detect potential hazards. The lander appears to hover as it selects its landing site and makes it final descent.

Related: The latest news about China’s space program 

The spacecraft launched on Nov. 23 and finally touched down safely Tuesday at 10:11 a.m. EST (1511GMT, 11:11 p.m. Beijing Time) near Mons Rümker, a volcanic peak. However the landing is only one part of a very challenging mission which aims to deliver the first fresh lunar samples to Earth since the 1970s.

The spacecraft began collecting samples within a couple of hours of landing, both scooping from the surface and drilling into the lunar regolith to obtain scientifically precious material.

 An ascent vehicle will launch the valuable cargo back into lunar orbit on Thursday in preparation to dock with the waiting Chang’e 5 orbiter. The orbiter will then carry the samples back towards Earth, releasing a reentry capsule that will enter the atmosphere and land around Dec.16.  

 If all goes well scientists will have the first new lunar samples in decades which potentially could be billions of years younger than those collected previously by Apollo and Soviet Luna missions.

The samples could help scientists understand why this area of the moon may have been geologically active long after volcanism in most other parts of the moon had ended.

Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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180-Foot Asteroid Will Come Extremely Close To Earth Thursday, Will Be Closer Than Moon

KEY POINTS

  • A 180-foot asteroid called 2020 VZ6 will be zipping by Earth Thursday
  • The asteroid will be closer to the planet than the moon at one point during its flyby
  • The space rock has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List

A 180-foot asteroid will be zipping by Earth at a very close distance this week, according to NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS).

A near-Earth asteroid (NEA) called 2020 VZ6 is currently making its way toward Earth’s vicinity and is set to make its closest approach to the planet Thursday. With a diameter reaching 180 feet (55 meters), this asteroid is estimated to be as tall as the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. The freestanding bell tower has a height of about 185 feet (56 meters).

The NEA’s size isn’t the most interesting part about it. 2020 VZ6, according to the CNEOS’ close approach data table, will fly by the planet very closely and will at one point be closer to Earth than even the moon.

At 6:06 a.m. EST, the asteroid will zip by at a distance of 214,000 miles (345,000 kilometers) away from the planet’s surface. This is less than one lunar distance (LD), or 238,000 miles, which is the distance of the moon from the Earth. 

Despite its close approach, 2020 VZ6 has not been included in the European Space Agency’s Risk List, which means it has no chance of entering Earth’s atmosphere and hitting the planet when it makes its flyby Thursday.

Asteroid 2020 VZ6 was discovered on Nov. 14. Considered an Apollo asteroid, the NEA follows an Earth-crossing orbit. This type of orbit intersects with that of the planet at a certain point. This would mean that close approaches are more likely to occur among Apollo asteroids.

The CNEOS is responsible for providing data pages for every near-Earth object (NEO) that passes by the planet. Information provided by the center includes orbital parameters, a close approach summary of the NEO, an interactive orbit viewer for better viewing of its route and other facts such as its discovery date.

The CNEOS is part of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which predicts all NEO close approaches to Earth. Comprehensive assessments are made regarding each NEO/NEA and are uploaded to the site for the public to access.

In the event of a predicted impact of an NEA, CNEOS is the one assigned to provide the public with information on the impact time, location and geometry of the asteroid.

nasa giant asteroid vesta This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA Dawn spacecraft, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 3,200 miles and shows impact craters of various sizes and grooves parallel to the equator. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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China spacecraft collects moon samples to take back to Earth

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese spacecraft took samples of the moon’s surface Wednesday as part of a mission to bring lunar rocks back to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government said, adding to a string of successes for Beijing’s increasingly ambitious space program.



In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a screen shows the landed Chang'e-5 spacecraft and a moon surface picture, below, taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft during its landing process, at Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a screen shows the landed Chang’e-5 spacecraft and a moon surface picture, below, taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft during its landing process, at Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. A Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (Jin Liwang/Xinhua via AP)



In this image taken by camera aboard Chang'e 5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration, its shadow is reflected on the surface of the moon during its landing process on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
In this image taken by camera aboard Chang’e 5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration, its shadow is reflected on the surface of the moon during its landing process on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)

The Chang’e 5 probe touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side after descending from an orbiter, the China National Space Administration said. It released images of the barren landing site showing the lander’s shadow.

“Chang’e has collected moon samples,” the agency said in a statement.

The probe, launched Nov. 24 from the tropical island of Hainan, is the latest venture by a space program that sent China’s first astronaut into orbit in 2003. Beijing also has a spacecraft en route to Mars and aims eventually to land a human on the moon.

This week’s landing is “a historic step in China’s cooperation with the international community in the peaceful use of outer space,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

“China will continue to promote international cooperation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind,” Hua said.

Plans call for the lander to spend two days drilling into the lunar surface and collecting 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of rocks and debris. The top stage of the probe will be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule to take back to Earth, where it is to land in China’s northern grasslands in mid-December.



This image taken by camera aboard Chang'e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface during its landing process Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)


© Provided by Associated Press
This image taken by camera aboard Chang’e-5 spacecraft provided by China National Space Administration shows a moon surface during its landing process Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. The Chinese spacecraft landed on the moon Tuesday to bring back lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since the 1970s, the government announced. (China National Space Administration via AP)

If it succeeds, it will be the first time scientists have obtained fresh samples of lunar rocks since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976.

The

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On the same day China landed a probe on the moon, the US’s massive telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed



Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images


© Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images
Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

  • On the same day that China collected lunar rocks in a groundbreaking space mission, a critical US telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed.
  • The observatory, built in 1963, was a beacon for US astronomical research, lasted through natural disasters, and inspired generations of Puerto Rican researchers.
  • China’s successful accomplishment with the Chang’e-5 probe is the first time since the 1970s that lunar samples have been collected, and if the spacecraft returns to Earth safely in mid-December, will mark a massive step forward in space exploration. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, the United States and China experienced vastly different events in the world of space exploration and observation.

The Arecibo Observatory, a colossal telescope located in Puerto Rico, collapsed after deteriorating sharply since August. The Arecibo Observatory had been operating as a center for astronomical observations for 57 years. 

Meanwhile, far from the Earth’s atmosphere, the unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, a Chinese spacecraft, landed on the moon to bring lunar materials back to Earth for the first time in almost 50 years, the Chinese government announced.

China’s moon landing and retrieval of lunar rocks mark the first time a country has acquired sample materials from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976, according to NASA. 

US astronauts in NASA’s Apollo program last retrieved over 800 pounds of lunar samples between 1969 and 1972. 

Video: China successfully lands spacecraft on moon to retrieve lunar rocks (Reuters)

The two separate events on the same day show the stark contrast between China’s recent investment in space exploration and research and the US’s space efforts, which often have shifting budgets and priorities.

As Business Insider previously reported, there are myriad roadblocks to the US going back to the moon, including the cost of

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A Long March To The Moon And Beyond

China’s landing this week of a probe on the Moon — the first attempt by any nation to retrieve lunar samples in four decades — underlined just how far the country has come in achieving its space dream.

Beijing has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and of eventually sending humans to the Moon.

China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the United States and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts have had decades of experience in space exploration.

Beijing sees its space project as a marker of its rising global stature and growing technological might.

Here is a look at China’s space programme through the decades, and where it is headed:

The Jade Rabbit lunar rover surveyed the moon's surface for 31 months The Jade Rabbit lunar rover surveyed the moon’s surface for 31 months Photo: CCTV / CCTV

Soon after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong pronounced: “We too will make satellites.”

It took more than a decade, but in 1970, China’s launched its first satellite on a Long March rocket.

Human spaceflight took decades longer, with Yang Liwei becoming the first Chinese “taikonaut” in 2003.

As the launch approached, concerns over the viability of the mission caused Beijing to cancel a live television broadcast at the last minute.

China has been carrying out experiments in a lab simulating a lunar-like environment in preparation for its long-term goal of putting humans on the moon China has been carrying out experiments in a lab simulating a lunar-like environment in preparation for its long-term goal of putting humans on the moon Photo: AFP / STR

But the launch went smoothly, with Yang orbiting the Earth 14 times during his 21-hour flight aboard the Shenzhou 5.

China launched five crewed missions after that.

Following in the footsteps of the United States and Russia, China is striving to build a space station circling our planet.

The launch of a rocket carrying China's Chang'e-5 lunar probe underlines how much progress Beijing has made towards its 'space dream' The launch of a rocket carrying China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe underlines how much progress Beijing has made towards its ‘space dream’ Photo: AFP / STR

The Tiangong-1 lab was launched in September 2011.

In 2013, the second Chinese woman in space, Wang Yaping, gave a video class from inside the space module to children across the world’s most populous country.

The craft was also used for medical experiments and, most importantly, tests intended to prepare for the construction of a space station.

The lab was followed by the “Jade Rabbit” lunar rover in 2013, which first appeared a dud when it turned dormant and stopped sending signals back to Earth.

It made a dramatic recovery, though, ultimately surveying the Moon’s surface for 31 months, well beyond its expected lifespan.

In 2016, China launched its second orbital lab, the Tiangong-2, into orbit 393 kilometres (244 miles) above Earth. Taikonauts who have visited the station have run experiments on growing rice and other plants, as well as docking spacecraft.

China was deliberately left out of the International Space Station effort, but now it is expected to begin assembly of its own orbital outpost this year, with crews to start using it around 2022.

Under President Xi

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