China is preparing to launch its lunar sample return mission, Chang’e-5. On Tuesday the 57-metre Long March-5 rocket was rolled into position at the Wenchang spacecraft launch site in south China’s Hainan province.
This will be the fifth launch of the Long March-5. According to the China National Space Administration, ignition is likely to take place sometime in later November. Chang’e-5 was originally planned for launch in 2017, but the failure of the Long March 5’s second flight delayed the schedule as a rocket engine was redesigned.
Chang’e-5 is a complex mission. A service module will stay in orbit while a lander will descend to the volcanic site of Mons Rümker, in the Oceanus Procellarum region of the lunar nearside. The lander will robotically collect around 2kg of lunar material, which it will launch into lunar orbit to rendezvous with the service module. This will then return to Earth.
The sequence is reminiscent of a crewed mission, and could be a test of software and systems that China will use for future human landings.