China’s Chang’e-5 ascent vehicle has departed Oceanus Procellarum with pieces of lunar soil after a lightning-quick sample collection.

Update:

The Chang'e 5 Ascent Stage successfully docked with the service module in lunar orbit on December 5th, transferred its lunar sample return overnight, and undocked Sunday morning December 6th at 4:35 UT. There's word that the Ascent Stage may have enough fuel for a brief extended mission in lunar orbit.


Rectified version of the Chang'e 5 panorama
This is a rectified version of the landing-site panorama taken by cameras aboard Chang'e 5. Explore the full-size, unrectified image here
CNSA / CLEP / Don Davis

In a lightning-fast mission, China’s Chang’e 5 sample of the Moon is on its way back to Earth. The mission launched last week, transited to the Moon in a little over four days, then entered lunar orbit this past weekend. The 3.8-ton lander separated from the service module and then made a pinpoint touchdown in Oceanus Procellarum on Tuesday, December 1st, at 10:13 a.m. EST / 15:13 UT.

Chang’e 5 landed northeast of the Mons Rümker volcanic feature, and mission controllers wasted no time in collecting a sample, completing the process less than 24 hours after landing. Live-stream captures available via Chinese social media showed the lander drilling for samples, then stowing them for departure. Launch of the ascent vehicle occurred on December 3rd at 10:10 a.m. EST / 15:10 UT.

Updates on the successful landing have slowly made their way out from the China National Space Administration over the state-run CGTN TV network and social media.

Chang'e 5's landing site
USGS map, with annotations by the author.

Mons Rümker and the surrounding volcanic plateau is thought to represent relatively young lunar basalt, only 1.3 billion years old — younger than the average age of earlier lunar samples, which range from 3 to 4 billion years old. The lander’s rotary arm is equipped with a percussive drill and scoop. Chang’e 5 collected complete cores down to 2 meters in depth. The deepest Apollo cores were from Apollo 17, collected from a depth down to almost 10 feet (3-meters).

The plan was to collect at least 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) of lunar material for transfer to the ascent vehicle in 15 scoops, but officials from the China Association for Science and Technology reported that the container was filled after only 12 scoops.

After launch, the ascent vehicle must attain a velocity of 1.67 km/s (3,740 mph) as it departs the Moon's surface for a rendezvous with the service module in low lunar orbit, at an altitude of 400 km (250 miles). The ascent vehicle is expected to dock on Saturday, December 6th, at around 21:40 UT.

One of Chang'e 5's landing pads on the lunar surface.
CNSA

Once the precious scientific cargo is transferred to the service module, Chang’e 5 will head for home, dropping the sample return capsule for a “skip reentry” over the Dorbod Banner region of Inner Mongolia on December 16th or 17th. China practiced this sort of reentry return with the Chang’e 5 T1 mission in 2014.

Shortly after Chang’e 5’s launch, NASA made a call via Twitter for China to share its data with the scientific community, as it shared lunar samples from the Apollo program. This sparked some online controversy among observers of both space programs over the weekend. U.S. Congress banned NASA from coordinating with China in space in 2011. NASA plans on carrying out the inaugural launch of its SLS heavy-lift rocket next summer and returning astronauts to the Moon by late 2024.

The European Space Agency assisted with tracking Chang’e 5 en route to the Moon, but much of the information on the status of the mission has come from amateur radio operators such as Scott Tilley, and observers of the Chinese spaceflight program such as Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI).

The lunar sample is inbound even as Japan expects its sample-return from the asteroid 162173 Ryugu on December 6th, delivered by the Hayabusa 2 mission. Just think: In the span of just over a week, we have two sample returns coming to Earth, with more on their way.


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Comments


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Robert-LaPorta

December 3, 2020 at 4:45 pm

"Unlike the Apollo missions and Soviet landers, which picked up material strewn along the lunar surface, Chang’e 5 collected complete cores down to 2 meters in depth."

Not true, the Apollo missions took numerous core samples, including a 3 meter sample done by Apollo 17.

Additionally the soviet samples were obtained by drilling in to the surface.

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David Dickinson

December 4, 2020 at 7:19 am

Yup. Good catch... verified, found a reference for, and corrected.

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Anthony Barreiro

December 3, 2020 at 10:49 pm

Here on Earth, Chinese government-run industries steal technological innovations from other countries, and the Chinese government commits horrible human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and political dissidents. But I think the US ban on cooperating with China in space is counterproductive. CNSA has completed a series of highly sophisticated missions without any help from the US, and they have a very ambitious long term plan for both scientific research and commercial development in space. The US stands to lose more than we gain by trying to isolate China. Human space exploration will be exponentially more successful if we all work together. US-Soviet cooperation in space helped to end the Cold War. If the US participates in international missions with China -- with appropriate safeguards for US intellectual property and robust criticism of China's human rights violations -- then both nations and the whole world will benefit.

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23333333

December 4, 2020 at 11:56 am

Sir,since you always make cooperative and professional comments,I always have good respect for you.Yet today I feel some disappointment. You still hold your own view on exploraion and develpment, but you are still inevitably influenced by the media in your country.Though I kown ,I have no right to ask you to learn what China really look like behind the western media,I really feel sad that people wise like you view a nation with a promisable future as an evil ancient feudal empire, if I don't do something, I don't think I can enjoy the site anymore.If it's possible, you can learn our condition through sliming what policy we are talking about, what affairs are catching our eyes in the social media(I recommend weibo,it's China's twitter or some common local media like pengpai news).We have an open Interent, thousands of fault of gov are exposed everyday. We konw the turth about those unbelieveable news about China "exposed" by western, in my point, they are turly stupid, I always think that"Are they turly talking about China?".As far as I'm concerned, a lack of great understanding of an important neighbors is a catastrophic matter.(sorry for my poor English)

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Andrew James

December 5, 2020 at 7:40 pm

"...you are still inevitably influenced by the media in your country." ..and China isn't? What China is doing to countries like Australia or Hong Kong through its state controlled media right now is truly shocking. Saying "We have an open Internet,..." when it is clearly subject to strict content censorship. e.g. Bilibili does not allow political videos, requiring government certification by 'The Internet Information Office.' That's open? China's biggest problem is transparency, then using the media to promote self-interested political agendas without any criticism. e.g. Xinhua two days ago still promotes that COVID-19 didn't originate in China.

I'd be very interested in how much information is available from the Japanese Hayabusa2 return sample mission in Australia today. CCTV, Xinhua, etc. so far says nothing.

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23333333

December 6, 2020 at 12:40 am

As Mr Barreiro said, it's not the place to talk about politics. I know even though we hold the first hand information of our life, it's extremely tough to let your people believe our words. It's easy to understand why foreigners foucs on China and Chinese people's life so much. If you're truly interested in the the condition of China, I recommend you go there and search for the answer in person,the misunderstanding form foreigners is turly hurtful to Chinese.

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Andrew James

December 6, 2020 at 2:07 am

Thanks for your opinion. No one here has questioned "Chinese people's life" at all. What us "foreigners" object to is the use of propaganda and censorship to suppress fact and/or truth. What is truly "hurtful" is how the Chinese people are being manipulated and used to think that Western society is against them, when it is their own Government that is pushing this negative agenda.

Note 1: In saying this I've probably already been blacklisted, and if I did go to China, would be arrested on some trumped up charge by the PLA for my opinion being "hurtful to Chinese."

Note 2: The true quandary for David here is to remove or maintain all these comments here. If I've fallen outside policy, my apologies.

Note 3: Thank heavens the Liberty Bell survived!

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23333333

December 7, 2020 at 11:54 am

Sorry I have to send the last message under the article,since your note 1 is a very interesting thought. Because of some accidents I didn't read the remark completely until today.I even don't know how to say, well, don't worry,just go, if you visit China in the future,you will learn a intersting country which you have no possible to find in the western media,I use my 130eq as a guarantee.

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Andrew James

December 5, 2020 at 6:02 pm

110% agree. However, China is aiming for dominance in space exploration. The time for mutual cooperation has sadly gone beyond the point of no return. It will not come back. China sees the Moon only as a mine, wanting mineral resources away from relying on trade with other countries. (Antarctica in another.)

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23333333

December 4, 2020 at 12:00 pm

I meant no offense, if my Chingilsh offended you, I apologize.

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thearborist

December 4, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Please don't apologize for your use of our language. I only speak one language and have great respect for anyone who can communicate in more than one. Your message was clear. And I agree that we are limited by the misconceptions presented by our media, whether they are intentional or not. I hope we can all work toward greater openness and understanding, and sharing of our knowledge is a great place to start.

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23333333

December 4, 2020 at 8:19 pm

thank you for your understanding

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Anthony Barreiro

December 4, 2020 at 11:38 pm

Thank you for expressing your opinion. No offense taken. This is not the right forum to debate China's human rights violations, nor those of the United States. I hope we can agree that all nations, including the United States and China, should cooperate in the peaceful exploration of space.

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23333333

December 5, 2020 at 1:32 am

Yse,I see,cooperation and communication are the one of the most important items for the whole world.

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Andrew James

December 5, 2020 at 8:36 pm

...but it is also based on building mutual trust. e.g. Will China be willing to let non-Chinese scientists study these samples? Leonard David on September 11, 2017 in Scientific American article "China’s Delayed Moon Mission Sparks Debate over Lunar Samples", quotes Clive Neal saying: "This is an exciting time for lunar science, and it is a shame that politics prevents U.S. scientists from being directly involved. Likewise, it is a shame that Chinese scientists cannot request Apollo samples. Scientists will, however, continue to work together in order to better understand the moon, and hopefully bridge the gap politicians can’t." Even Buzz Aldrin says: "I would encourage the scripting of a formal plan to share the bounty from our respective moon exploration undertakings. It is ‘one small step’ that can be forged between China and the United States as we both stride outward into deep space."

It is nice to know that other scientists from the US and Australia will be able examine this material next year The US will also share materials from Bennu in return.

Yet in the light of all this, on the very day of the first return of material from asteroid Ryugu by Hayabusa2 in Australia, Chinese controlled media ignore it. IMO, Cooperation at the moment is far too idealistic when others are just flagrantly undermining it for nationalism or political gain.

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Andrew James

December 5, 2020 at 11:00 pm

Correction: Last two paragraphs should read:

Yet in the light of all this, on the very day of the first return of material from asteroid Ryugu by Hayabusa2 in Australia, Chinese controlled media ignore it. It is nice to know that other scientists from the US and Australia will be able examine this material next year The US will also share materials from Bennu in return.

IMO, Cooperation at the moment is far too idealistic when others are just flagrantly undermining it for nationalism or political gain.

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23333333

December 6, 2020 at 8:03 am

Sorry my words let you feel bad, yet there isn't twitter,if we still debate with this topic,may be we will be tired by webmaster and passer-by,let's just let go of antagonism and enjoy our sky together,in my point,such kinds of commincation is more meningful for us as an independent person.

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