China’s Chang’e-5 probe has successfully landed on the Moon following its separation and descent from a spacecraft in lunar orbit.
The news was trumpeted by Chinese state media and confirmed by enthusiasts looking out for signals from the spacecraft.
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) December 1, 2020
The landing follows earlier successful missions to the Moon by the Chinese space programme, although Chang’e-5 does not feature a rover this time around. The goal of this mission is the collection of approximately 2kg of stones and soil (including samples from 2 metres down) to be returned to Earth for study.
The whole process from initiation of powered descent to a soft landing took approximately 15 minutes, with enthusiasts following the action before official confirmation that the lander was down safely.
Samples will be collected over the next few days before the ascent stage lifts off to rendezvous with the waiting orbiter. The samples will then be transferred to a return vehicle and sent back to Earth for a landing in the middle of December.
It is a convoluted process, and not dissimilar to the Apollo lunar missions, except on a considerably smaller (and uncrewed) scale with the added twist of a fully robotic docking in lunar orbit.
A successful mission will pave the way for future Chang’e spacecraft and a possible crewed jaunt to the lunar surface in the next decade or so. ®