China on Tuesday successfully launched its maiden unmanned spacecraft to collect samples from the lunar surface and return to earth, which space scientists here say is the Chinese space programme’s most complex operation ever.
It is China’s first attempt to retrieve materials from an extra-terrestrial body which is expected to last more than 20 days.
The Chang’e-5 lunar probe was successfully launched from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in the southern island province of Hainan, state-run CGTN reported. The spacecraft was launched by a Long March-5 rocket at 4.30 am Beijing Time.
Chang’e-5 is one of the most complicated and challenging missions in China’s aerospace history, as well as the world’s first moon-sample mission in more than 40 years.
The US sent astronauts to the moon to collect samples. In the Soviet Union’s unmanned lunar sampling missions, the spacecraft took off from the moon and returned to Earth directly. The mission faces new technical challenges and much could go wrong, Chinese space scientists said.
“It is the Chinese space programme’s most complex mission ever,” Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Centre of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) told the official media.
The 8-tonne spacecraft has four independent but interactive components. This includes one to stay in lunar orbit as a docking station, one to go down to the moon’s surface and drill for samples, one to take the material back to the dock station and another to bring the samples back to Earth.