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China lines up 6th moon mission for 2023 after strong 2020 showing

A model of China's Chang'e 5 lunar orbiter and lander are displayed before a press conference at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. Following the successful return of moon rocks by its Chang'e 5 robotic probe, China is preparing for future missions that could set the stage for an eventual lunar base to host human explorers. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)

The Chinese moon mission known as the Chang’e 5 has made some interesting headlines in recent months with the safe return of some lunar samples back on Dec. 17.

The Chang’e 5 is the fifth lunar mission of the China Lunar Exploration Program. This mission was launched Nov. 23 and went into lunar orbit Nov. 28.

The Chang’e 5 is a sophisticated spacecraft which is made up of the main spacecraft orbiter, lander, ascent module and sample return capsule

The lander made a soft landing on the surface of the moon in the Mons Rumker region, which may have some unique lunar rock formations.

Here is an image of the lander taken from the NASA LRO spacecraft.

While on the surface of the moon, the lander scooped up some 61 ounces of some of the youngest lunar samples to date!

The last time lunar samples were returned from the moon by a robotic spacecraft was back in 1976 with the Russian Luna 24.

The ascent module blasted off the surface of the moon Dec. 3 and returned and docked with the orbiting module as it then made its way back to Earth.

The returner module then skipped atop the Earth’s atmosphere to make a soft landing on the 17th.

Here is a detailed view of the Chang’e 5 spacecraft.

The mission is not over just yet, as the main spacecraft has enough onboard fuel to move onward towards the sun and reach a location in space known as the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange Point.

This is a stable location in which the service module can conduct some research on the sun.

The spacecraft is now some 890,000 miles from Earth.

Here is an image of the Earth–moon system taken by the service module on its way towards the sun. This is an amazing picture in itself.

The importance of this mission to date is the great technology that is behind this and other spacecraft of the new decade.

The L1 Lagrange Point is about a million miles from the Earth and here is another amazing image taken from another spacecraft of the Earth and the moon.

There is even the possibility that the service module may move on to the more stable Sun-Earth L4 L5 Lagrange points, where the service module might look at some rare asteroids, which are known as Earth-Trojan asteroids.

The Chang’e 5 spacecraft was placed into orbit by the powerful Long March 5 rocket.

A future Chang’e 6 lunar mission is scheduled to soft-land at the lunar South Pole and collect and return samples sometime in 2023.

There are many more mission scheduled like this too!

Learn more about the Chinese lunar program here.

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