The Chang'e 5 lunar orbiter, lander, and sample collector launched off of the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan province, in the People’s Republic of China, on Monday, said the Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA).
The successful launch happened at 15:30 PM EST on Monday (04:30 AM Beijing time early on Tuesday morning), and if the mission is successful, the rocket should return to Earth in mid-December, reports the BBC.
This is the first time since 1976, 44 years ago, that a nation launches to the Moon to collect lunar rock samples — the mission's purpose. The only other two countries were the U.S. and Russia.
The Long March 5 heavy-lifter rocket launched the spacecraft, reports NASA Spaceflight.com, which is the third most powerful launcher, after SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy and United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.
The intricate mission is a tricky one, but following a series of successful and well-carried-out lunar missions over the last decade, the CNSA's confidence is high.
The Chinese space agency's previous mission, Chang'e 4, successfully landed a lunar rover on the far side of the Moon, marking the first-ever time a space agency has managed to do so, per the BBC.
With Chang’e 5, China has launched an effort to join the U.S. & the former Soviet Union in obtaining lunar samples. We hope China shares its data with the global scientific community to enhance our understanding of the Moon like our Apollo missions did & the Artemis program will. pic.twitter.com/mPjG4FE0qQ— NASA (@NASA) November 23, 2020
Chang'e 5's lunar landing spot is set for Mons Rümker, a location on the nearside of the Moon in a region called Oceanus Procellarum.
The launch site was specifically chosen as it offers rocks that are a lot younger than those previously collected by the U.S. and Russia. This will hopefully offer scientists a new data point for the way in which they measure events in our Solar System.
Chang'e 5 will go into orbit when it arrives at the Moon, its lander will then detach and go on a powered descent. Once touched down, the surroundings will be monitored before the lunar rocks are collected before returning to orbit and joining the orbiter.
After 23 days in space, the sample will return to Earth, landing in the Siziwang Banner grassland of Inner Mongolia, explained NASA.
Dr. James Carpenter, exploration science coordinator for human and robotic exploration at the European Space Agency, told the BBC, "We're seeing right now an extraordinary expansion in lunar activity. We've got the US-led Artemis program (to return astronauts to the Moon) and the partnerships around that; the Chinese with their very ambitious exploration program; but also many more new actors as well."