China’s Chang’e-5 orbiter module, which facilitated China’s tough lunar sample retrieval last year, is on its way to the moon after deep-space tests. Before deploying its engines into the deep space for the expanded mission, the orbiter, that is one of 4 Chang’e-5 mission spacecraft, delivered 1.731 kg of the lunar samples to the Earth on December 16.
The Chang’e-5 spacecraft entered its planned orbit of 1.5 million kms around Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1 in March. It used the space station to undertake orbital studies and experiments on the Earth and the Sun. Chang’e-5 has departed orbit at Sun-Earth L1 and is on its approach to the lunar flyby on 9 September at 5:00 a.m. Eastern time, according to new data from satellite monitors.
Chang’e-5 may have changed orbit on August 30, according to sightings and data from amateur satellite trackers Daniel Estevez and Scott Tilley, as well as impartial astronomy software programmer Bill Gray. The spacecraft is under the control of the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center (BACC), that is responsible for telemetry, tracking, and commanding spacecraft. The Chang’e-5 plans have not yet been updated by BACC.
Whether the orbiter can enter lunar orbit, proceed to other Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or aim for an Earth-moon Lagrange point is determined by the volume of propellant left in the orbiter. Another possibility is to utilise the flyby to steer Chang’e-5 to flyby 469219 Kamooalewa, an Earth-like satellite that will be the target of China’s Close-Earth asteroid sample-return journey in 2024. Jing Peng, the deputy chief designer in charge of the Chang’e-5 spacecraft system at the CAST (China Academy of Space Technology), stated during the Global Space Exploration (GLEX) conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June that a trip to a planetary body like Venus might not be possible due to a lack of propellant.
He went on to say, “I don’t anticipate the orbiter is going to have many opportunities to execute more sophisticated orbit manoeuvres with other bodies.” Peng expects it will stay in the Earth-Moon system, or Lagrange point 1, for the time being.
The Chang’e-5 lander collected materials near Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum just on moon’s near side, which are being investigated now. Sample materials are now available to both domestic and international universities.
Although NASA’s senior scientist, Jim Green, expressed interest for a future exchange of the Apollo-era lunar samples with those recovered by China’s Chang’e-5 mission, the agency has no plans to do so at this time.
China wants to fly Chang’e-6, a follow-up lunar sample return mission that will be part of a combined Russia-China International Lunar Research Station, in 2024. The French space agency will send a research payload to Chang’e-6.
China’s Lunar and Planetary Data System provided a rare update on the Chang’e-4 lunar far side mission earlier this month. The Yutu-2 rover has travelled about 799 metres over 33 lunar days since landing in the Von Kármán crater in January 2019.