The Chinese Chang’e-5 Orbiter returns to the Moon

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The Chinese moon sampling space probe continues its extended mission, the destination of which is currently unknown.

HELSINKI – The Chang’e-5 Orbiter Module, which facilitated a complex lunar sample from China last year, is on its way to the moon after testing in space.

The Orbiter, one of the four separate spacecraft of the Chang’e-5 mission, delivered a return module containing 1,731 kilograms of lunar samples to Earth on December 16, before firing engines into deep space for a longer mission.

The Chang’e-5 orbiter was later successful entered planned orbit around Lagrange’s 1 Sun-Earth point, approximately 1.5 million kilometers, in March. That conducted tests related to orbit control and observations of the Earth and the Sun.

New data from satellite trackers suggest that Chang’e-5 has left its orbit around Sun-Earth L1 and is intended for lunar flyby beginning of September 9, EST.

It was noted that Chang’e-5 may have changed its orbit on August 30 was based on observations and data from amateur tracking satellites Daniel Estevez and Scott Tilley, and freelance astronomer programmer Bill Gray.

The probe is under the control of the Beijing Space Control Center (BACC), which is responsible for telemetry, tracking and command of the spacecraft. The BACC has yet to submit an update to the Chang’e-5 plans.

Potential maneuvers, such as entering the Moon’s orbit, pointing to a different Sun-Earth Lagrange point, or Earth-Moon Lagrange point, depend on how much fuel is left in the orbiter. Another possibility might be to use a flyby to position the Chang’e-5 on flyby trajectory 469219 Kamo’oalewa, Earth quasi-satellite and China target 2024 A near-Earth asteroid sample return mission.

Jing Peng, associate chief designer of the Chang’e-5 spacecraft system at the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), said at the Global Space Exploration (GLEX) conference in St. Petersburg, Russia in June that a visit to a planetary body such as Venus could not be possible due to lack of fuel.

“I don’t think the orbiter will have many opportunities to perform more complex orbital maneuvers with other bodies,” he said. “I think it will stay at Lagrange’s point 1 or in the Earth-Moon system” Peng said.

Samples taken by the Chang’e-5 lander near Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum to the northwest from the near side of the moon are currently being analyzed. Material sample requests are now open to national and international institutions.

NASA there are currently no plans exchange any of the Apollo-era lunar samples with those returned by the Chinese Chang’e-5 mission, although the agency’s chief scientist Jim Green expressed hope for such an exchange in the future.

China plans to re-return the lunar sample, Chang’e-6, in 2024, which nominally is part of the joint Sino-Russian International Moon Research Station. The French space agency will bring a science load to Chang’e-6.

The Chinese Lunar and Planetary Data System earlier this month delivered a rare update to the ongoing Chang’e-4 lunar mission. The Yutu-2 rover has now traveled approximately 799 meters in the 33 completed lunar days after landing at Von Kármán Crater in January 2019.

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