China's unmanned lunar probe Chang'e-5, set to be launched around December 2017, will bring lunar soil samples back to Earth, says Wu Yanhua, deputy chief of the China National Space Administration.
The just-concluded Chang'e-3 mission marked the completion of the second phase of China's lunar program, which included orbiting and landing on the moon and returning to Earth. The third phase, which includes unmanned sampling before returning to Earth, will follow the launch of Chang'e-5.
According to Ye Peijian, an expert with the China Aerospace1 Science and Technology Corporation Fifth Research Academy, Chang'e-5 will consist of the orbiter, the return vehicle, the ascender and the lander. The orbiter and return vehicle will orbit the moon, while the lander and ascender will land on the moon.
After the lander finishes taking samples, the samples will be placed in containers carried by the ascender, which will then dock with the orbiter and the return vehicle. The samples will be transferred to the return vehicle, which will eventually bring them to Earth.
Hu Hao, the chief designer of the third phase, said Chang'e-5 weighs 8.2 tons and will be launched by the rocket Long March 5.
The mission is expected to achieve five firsts for China since the country initiated2 its space exploration programs: first unmanned sampling, first takeoff from the moon's surface, first unmanned docking on the moon orbiting 380,000km from Earth, and first return to Earth with lunar soil samples at a speed close to the escape velocity3.
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