Chang’e-5 is scheduled to launch from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan Province between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time on Tuesday. The mission is named after the Chinese moon goddess.
The Long March-5 launcher with the Chang’e-5 four modules – The lander, the ascent vehicle, the service capsule and the return capsule – started refueling on Monday, Chinese state media reported.
The lander is said to land in an area called Oceanus Procellarum and stay on the moon on a lunar day – the equivalent of about two weeks on Earth.
There it will try to dig about three meters into the ground and then transfer the collected material to the climber. According to NASAThe Ascender will then dock on the service capsule. At this point the samples are transferred to the return capsule. This capsule will then return to Earth, where it is expected to land in Inner Mongolia early next month. The aim of the mission is to collect approximately 4.5 pounds of material for research.
Jack Singal, associate professor of physics at the University of Richmond, said the mission, if successful, will allow scientists to date the rocks and volcanic activity directly from the collection point. Then calibrating the age to the crater density could create the conditions to “get a better grip on the dating of rocks on the rest of the lunar surface and other rocky bodies, including Mercury and Mars.”
The move is the latest in China’s ambitious plans to expand its space exploration, another rival aspect of US-China relations.
In July, China launched its Tianwen-1 mission, making it the country’s first attempt to land a rover on Mars. NASA launched a mission to Mars called Perseverance the next week. The United Arab Emirates also launched an orbiter to Mars earlier this month.
In January 2019, China was the first country to do this land successfully a spaceship on the other side of the moon. On this mission, called Chang’e-4, the ship landed in Von Kármán Crater in the South Pole Aitken Basin. The Chinese National Space Administration said the landing marked “a new chapter in human lunar and space exploration”.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine called this landing “a first for mankind and an impressive achievement”.
China’s mission comes from the fact that NASA, as part of its Artemis program, is pushing for the first time since 1972 to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface. The Trump administration had moved NASA’s timeline from 2028 to 2024, saying it needed to move urgently.
NASA hopes to create a permanent presence on and around the moon by building a space station it calls the Gateway, which will remain in lunar orbit and serve as a stopover for astronauts and cargo.
However, NASA is unlikely to be able to meet the White House’s ambitious schedule. And while it appears that under a Biden administration, NASA would keep the Artemis program, the schedule would more closely match the original 2028 date.
Meanwhile, NASA is trying to send a series of scientific missions to the lunar surface, including a rover that will look for water at the moon’s south pole by 2023.
China has accelerated dramatically his space missions in recent years after an astronaut was launched into space for the first time in 2003, decades after the American astronauts landed on the moon in 1969. China’s last mission was originally scheduled for 2017 but was delayed after a long launch error on March 5th.
The most recent mission, Singal said, was “a full-scale mission for an emerging space power.”
The proximity of the moon, he added, means that if China succeeds, “it can quickly achieve some results and a triumph”.
Christian Davenport contributed to this report.