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Chang'e 5 orbiter heads to new mission in space

By ZHAO LEI | China Daily | Updated: 2021-01-20 09:38
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An illustration shows the orbital transfer injection by Chang'e 5's orbiter-reentry capsule combination. [Photo provided to]

Following the successful conclusion of the historic Chang'e 5 lunar sample mission, a major section of the robotic probe has been given a new task deep in space.

The Chang'e 5 orbiter is now flying toward Lagrange Point 1, which is located between the Earth and the sun, for extended scientific operations, said Pei Zhaoyu, deputy director of the China National Space Administration's Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center and spokesman for the Chang'e 5 mission.

Lagrange Point 1 is an ideal position for monitoring solar activities, he said. The point is a place where the gravity from the Earth and the sun balance, so that the probe may orbit the sun in synchronization with the Earth without spending much of its fuel.

"We didn't set this task for the orbiter when we launched Chang'e 5," Pei said in Beijing on Monday.

"But we soon found that thanks to the outstanding performance of our carrier rocket, Chang'e 5 was placed exactly in its preset orbital position so there would be no need for extra correction maneuvers beside the originally planned ones, which meant the orbiter could save a lot of fuel."

Ground controllers assessed a host of factors including the orbiter's remaining propellant and the conditions of its devices as well as the data it sent back before deciding that it could be used for extended operations, he said.

Mission planners at Pei's center now want the orbiter to investigate environmental elements near Lagrange Point 1 like solar rays and radiation, verify designs for exploring the point, and conduct communication experiments with ground control.

Chang'e 5, China's largest and most sophisticated lunar probe, was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket early on Nov 24 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, setting out on the world's first mission since 1976 to bring lunar samples back to Earth.

The 8.2-metric-ton spacecraft had four main components-an orbiter, lander, ascender and reentry capsule.

The probe separated into two parts-the orbiter-reentry capsule combination and the lander-ascender combination-while in lunar orbit on Nov 30.

Late on Dec 1, the lander-ascender combination touched down on the moon and began using a drill to obtain underground samples and a mechanical arm to scoop up surface soil.

Laden with the collected samples, the ascender lifted itself into a lunar orbit on Dec 3 and linked up with the orbiter-reentry capsule combination on Dec 6. It transferred samples into the capsule and later separated from the combination.

The orbiter-reentry capsule combination entered a moon-Earth transfer trajectory on Dec 13 to begin the flight toward Earth.

On Dec 17, the reentry capsule separated from the orbiter about 5,000 kilometers above the southern Atlantic Ocean and started descending toward the ground. It touched down smoothly at a preset landing site in Siziwang Banner in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region at 1:59 am.

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