General, Research, Technology

How will China deliver lunar soil to Earth as part of the Chang'e 5 mission?

At the end of November, the China National SpaceDirectorate (CNSA) successfully launched the Changzheng-5 launch vehicle. On board was the automatic station "Chang'e-5", which is designed to collect lunar soil and send it to Earth. She successfully completed a 112-hour flight to the satellite of our planet and at the moment her descent module has already made a soft landing. In this case, the service module remained in the orbit of the Moon and waits for the device to collect samples and transfer them for further transportation to Earth. This entire process consists of several stages, which will require careful and precise Chinese astronomers. It sounds like something complicated, but Space News recently detailed how this will all happen.

The device "Chang'e-5" has already begun the extraction of lunar soil

How is lunar soil mined?

The Chang'e-5 spacecraft, which consists offive parts and weighs about 8 tons, entered the orbit of the moon on November 28. The descent module with equipment for collecting lunar soil samples and a capsule for storing them has already made a soft landing on the surface of the Ocean of Storms. The service module remains in orbit and is waiting for the filled capsule to return to it.

Here's a gif of the Chang'e-5 descent and landing while we wait for the full video footage. There's a hover phase in there, but altitude is impossible to discern.

- Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) December 1, 2020

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Descent "Chang'e-5"

The device sank to the surface on December 1 andhe has 20 hours to collect two kilograms of lunar soil. Of these, 0.5 kilograms will be produced during drilling, and 1.5 kilograms - from the surface. The material will accumulate inside a special capsule weighing about 500 kilograms. After filling, the most difficult part of the mission will begin. The descent module will lift the capsule to a height of 185 kilometers. Within 3.5 hours, Chinese astronomers will have to calculate the location of the capsule and service module and carefully dock them.

Components of the apparatus "Chang'e-5"

Previously, the organizers of the mission already hadto carry out a similar docking in the Earth's orbit. But this time, the docking will take place at a distance of about 400,000 kilometers from our planet. This means that some time will pass between sending a command and performing an action. If the Chang'e-5 team succeeds in doing this, they will be the first to remotely dock in lunar orbit.

Photo from tests of the "Chang'e-5" apparatus. It's huge!

After successful docking, the capsule with the ground willmoved to the inside of the return capsule inside the service module. For 6-7 days, the service module will orbit the Moon in anticipation of the best moment to be sent to Earth. The leadership of the Chang'e-5 mission needs to calculate the trajectory, during which the vehicle will land on the territory of Inner Mongolia (China).

We mark in the calendar: lunar soil samples are expected to arrive on December 16.

The returned capsule with soil will separate fromservice module approximately 5,000 kilometers from Earth. After that, the researchers will pick up a capsule and send samples of lunar soil to special laboratories in Beijing and Huan province. There the samples will be stored and examined.

See also: What is regolith and why does China fly behind lunar soil?

Volcanoes on the Moon

By successfully completing this mission, China wants to becomethe third country in history to deliver lunar soil samples to Earth. This was first done in 1969 as part of the legendary Apollo 11 mission. The second time, lunar soil samples were delivered to Earth in 1970 by the Soviet Luna-16 apparatus. Subsequently, Soviet vehicles brought lunar soil several more times. The last mission of this kind was carried out in 1976 with the aid of the Luna-24 apparatus. This means that at the moment we are watching how China makes the first such mission in 44 years.

Samples of lunar soil collected in Soviet times in 2018 were exhibited at Sotheby's

In the past, the study of the lunar soil gavescientists understand that there is water on our natural satellite. As part of the Chang'e-5 mission, Chinese scientists are no longer so interested in finding liquid. They hope that the extracted samples will help them understand the reason for the formation of some lunar craters. The fact is that craters with a diameter of less than 20 kilometers are simply cupped and are clearly formed from impacts of space objects. But large craters with a diameter of about 200 kilometers have a relatively flat bottom and a hill in the center. Scientists believe they may have formed from volcanoes.

Some of the craters of the moon may have been formed by volcanoes

There is a theory that at the time of itsthe formation of the Moon had a very hot interior. Because of this, active volcanoes could form on its surface. As a result of their eruptions, giant lava fields and volcanic craters could have formed. According to scientists, volcanic activity on the Moon stopped only about 1 billion years ago. At the moment, only rare emissions of heated gases are recorded there. By studying the composition of the lunar soil, Chinese scientists can learn a lot about the development of a natural satellite of the Earth.

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If the mission of the Chang'e-5 apparatus fails,instead, the already developed Chang'e-6 station will go to the moon. But if all goes well, this device will be used in 2023 to land in another region of our satellite. The experience gained from these missions will be needed by China in the future. And all because someday a station will be built on the moon and cargo transportation will become a very popular service. You can read more about the future station on the Moon and its benefits in this article.