China’s ambitious lunar sample return spacecraft Chang’e 5 (orbiter and returner) has entered the Moon-Earth transfer orbit on 13th December, after successfully completing two orbital maneuvers.
According to China National Space Administration (CNSA), at about 230 kilometres above the surface of Moon, orbiter and returner fired four engines and shot into Moon-Earth transfer orbit at 9:51 AM Beijing time.
Then, after about twenty two minutes engines were shut off as the spacecraft (orbiter and returner) successfully entered the required orbit.
The Moon-Earth transfer orbit (or Hohmann Transfer) is a fuel efficient orbital maneuver which allows a satellite/spacecraft to transfer from one orbit to other by using minimum possible fuel.
The combined orbiter and sample return vehicle has now escaped the Moon’s gravity and are moving on their path back to home. Soon at about 5,000 kilometres from Earth, the orbiter and returner vehicle will separate from each other.
Before the returner alone begins its final descend to Earth, a skip entry maneuver will be performed. After that the returner along with lunar samples is expected to land in the Ulanqab region of Inner Mongolia, China, on 16/17 December 2020.
The samples will be the first to retrieved back since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 probe in 1976. If successful, China will become third country (after United States and Soviet Union) to retrieve lunar samples to Earth.
Chang’e 5- a Chinese spacecraft on duty to bring lunar rock and soil samples to Earth, is an ongoing robotic mission of the ambitious “Chinese Lunar Exploration Program”.
Launched on November 23, 2020, Chang’e 5 landed on the Moon’s near side on December 1, 2020. The samples were collected both below the lunar surface and on the surface. The materials are 1.2 billion years old- the youngest ever to be collected from the Moon.