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Lunar Samples Transferred for Return to Earth
Lunar Samples Transferred for Return to Earth
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Jun 07, 2024

Lunar samples collected from the moon's far side by China's Chang'e 6 mission have been delivered to their final carrier for the return trip to Earth, according to the China National Space Administration.

After orbiting the moon for about 56 hours, the sample-loaded ascender of the Chang'e 6 probe docked with the orbiter-reentry capsule combination at 2:48 pm on Thursday. It then transferred a sealed container holding the lunar samples to the reentry capsule, the administration said.

This operation was the second automated rendezvous and docking of any spacecraft in lunar orbit. The first occurred during the Chang'e 5 mission in December 2020.

Before the docking, the ascender executed four orbital adjustment maneuvers. Next, the ascender will depart from the orbiter-reentry capsule combination, which will continue orbiting the moon until ground control orders it to leave lunar orbit and head back to Earth.

Upon arrival in Earth orbit, the orbiter and reentry capsule will separate. The reentry capsule will then perform a series of maneuvers to land in North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region in late June.

The Chang'e 6 mission aims to retrieve samples from the lunar far side for scientific studies, marking it as one of the most significant space missions this year.

To date, all lunar substances on Earth were collected from the near side of the moon through the United States' six Apollo manned landings, the former Soviet Union's three Luna robotic missions, and China's Chang'e 5 unmanned mission.

Scientists note that the far side's landscapes and physical characteristics differ greatly from the near side, which is visible from Earth. Analyzing these samples will enhance understanding of the moon's and the solar system's origins.

The 8.35-metric-ton Chang'e 6 spacecraft, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a reentry capsule, was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on May 3 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province. It entered lunar orbit on May 8.

After several complex steps, the lander touched down at the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest known impact craters in the solar system, on Sunday morning.

During the 49-hour surface operation from Sunday morning to Tuesday morning, a mechanical arm and drill collected surface and underground materials, which were placed in a special container on the ascender. Several scientific instruments were also activated for surveys and analysis.

After completing these tasks, the ascender lifted off from the lunar surface and reached lunar orbit on Tuesday morning.

Wang Yanan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, stated that the successful docking and sample transfer marked significant progress toward the full success of the Chang'e 6 mission. "Robotic rendezvous and docking between spacecraft require cutting-edge technologies, excellent planning and exceptionally high precision," he said. "Before Chang'e 5, all rendezvous and docking operations between two spacecraft components in lunar orbit took place during the Apollo missions, and those were monitored and controlled by astronauts with support from ground controllers."

Based on a Xinhua News Agency article

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