Chang’e-5 transfers samples taken from the Moon during the first of these maneuvers to be performed by a Chinese spacecraft.
China’s Chang’e-5 lunar probe has successfully performed a remote-controlled rendezvous and docking maneuver in lunar orbit, according to China’s National Space Administration.
In the first such maneuver ever carried out by a Chinese spacecraft, Chang’e-5’s ascender on Sunday transferred samples collected from the moon to the orbiter-return combination in lunar orbit.
Then the spacecraft has separated from the ascender and must continue to orbit the moon while waiting for the right time to return to Earth. It is expected to land in mid-December somewhere in Inner Mongolia.
About 2 kg (4.4 pounds) of moon rocks to be returned to Earth were safely stored in the return capsule.
The researchers hope the samples, the first to return to Earth in 44 years, will provide new information about volcanic activity on the Moon.
This is the first time that an in-orbit docking maneuver has succeeded without the presence of an astronaut since the moon landings of the United States and the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s, when the two nations have collected the last samples of the moon.
“The Moon is a big place with differences in terrain. Returning samples from different regions helps us understand the formation and structure of the Moon, ”Australian space expert Morris Jones told DPA News Agency.
“This mission also helps China in its long-term goal of landing astronauts on the moon,” Jones added.
Chang’e 5, named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, was launched at the end of November from the Wenchang spaceport on the island of Hainan, in southern China.
The space module landed on the moon on Tuesday and began collecting rock samples on Wednesday, leaving the moon the next day.
The lunar mission is another milestone in China’s ambitious space program which also includes building its own space station by 2022 and sending an exploration mission to Jupiter by 2029.