Chang'e 5

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Chang'e 5
Chang'e 5 probe separating from the launcher (artist's impression)
Mission typeLunar sample return
COSPAR ID2020-087A
SATCAT no.47097
Mission durationPrimary mission: 22 days, 21 hours, 29 minutes
Extended mission: 376 days, 20 hours, 46 minutes
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass8,200 kg (18,100 lb)[citation needed]
Start of mission
Launch date23 November 2020
20:30 UTC
24 November 2020
04:30 CST[1]
RocketLong March 5
Launch siteWenchang
End of mission
Landing date16 December 2020
17:59 UTC
Return capsule
Landing siteInner Mongolia, China
Lunar orbiter
Orbital insertion28 November 2020
12:58 UTC[2]
Orbital parameters
Periapsis altitude400 km (250 mi)[2]
Lunar lander
Landing date1 December 2020
15:11 UTC[3]
Return launch3 December 2020
15:10 UTC
Landing siteMons Rümker, region of Oceanus Procellarum
43°03′27″N 51°54′58″W / 43.0576°N 51.9161°W / 43.0576; -51.9161Coordinates: 43°03′27″N 51°54′58″W / 43.0576°N 51.9161°W / 43.0576; -51.9161[4][5]
Sample mass1,731 g (61.1 oz)[6]
Docking with Sample Ascender
Docking date5 December 2020, 21:42:00 UTC[7]
Undocking date7 December 2021, 23:41:31 UTC[7]
Flyby of Moon
Spacecraft componentorbiter
Closest approach~9 September 2021[8]
Chang'e 5
Simplified Chinese嫦娥五号
Traditional Chinese嫦娥五號

Chang'e 5 (Chinese: 嫦娥五号; pinyin: Cháng'é wǔhào[note 1]) is the fifth lunar exploration mission of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, and China's first lunar sample-return mission.[11] Like its predecessors, the spacecraft is named after the Chinese moon goddess Chang'e. It launched at 20:30 UTC on 23 November 2020 from Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island, landed on the Moon on 1 December 2020, collected ~1,731 g (61.1 oz) of lunar samples (including from a core ~1 m deep),[12][13] and returned to the Earth at 17:59 UTC on 16 December 2020.

Chang'e-5 was the first lunar sample-return mission since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976. The mission made China the third country to return samples from the Moon after the United States and the Soviet Union.


The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program has four phases, with incremental technological advancement:[14][15]

  • Phase three: returning lunar samples, completed by Chang'e 5. The backup of Chang'e-5, the Chang'e 6 mission, is also a lunar sample-return mission.

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program will finally lead to the crewed missions in the 2030s.[14][15]

The Chang'e-5 Lander and Ascender Combination in the factory
The Chang'e-5 ascender testing



The Chang'e-5 mission consists of four modules or components:

  • Lander: landed on the lunar surface after separating from the Orbiter, installed with a drill and a scooping device. The Ascender is on the top of the Lander.
  • Ascender: after sampling, the lunar samples have been transported to a container within the Ascender. The Ascender launched from the lunar surface at 15:11 UTC, on 3 December 2020, followed by automatic lunar orbit rendezvous and docking with the Orbiter. After transferring the sample, the Ascender separated from the Orbiter, deorbited and fell back down on the Moon at 22:49 UTC, on 6 December 2020, to avoid becoming space debris.
  • Orbiter: after the samples transported from the Ascender to the Orbiter, the Orbiter left the lunar orbit and spent ~4.5 days flying back to the Earth orbit and released the Returner (reentry capsule) just before arrival.
  • Returner: The Returner performed a skip reentry to bounce off the atmosphere once before formal reentering.

The four components were launched together and flew to the Moon as a combined unit. After reaching the lunar orbit (14:58 UTC, on 28 November 2020), the Lander/Ascender separated from the Orbiter/Returner modules (20:40 UTC, on 29 November 2020), and descended to the surface of the Moon (15:13 UTC, on 1 December 2020). After samples have been collected, the Ascender separated from the Lander (15:11 UTC, on 3 December 2020), lifted off to the Orbiter/Returner, docked with them, and transferred the samples to the Returner. The Ascender then separated from the Orbiter/Returner and crashed on the Moon (~30°S in latitude and 0° in longitude) at 22:49 UTC, on 8 December 2020. The Orbiter/Returner then returned to the Earth, where the Returner separated and descended to the surface of the Earth at 17:59 UTC, on 16 December 2020.

The estimated launch mass of Chang'e-5 is 8,200 kg (18,100 lb),[19] the Lander is projected to be 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) and Ascender is about 500 kg (1,100 lb). Unlike Chang'e 4, which was equipped with a radioisotope heater unit to survive the extreme cold of lunar night, the Lander of Chang'e-5 stopped functioning in the following lunar night.

Scientific payloads[edit]

Chang'e-5 includes four scientific payloads, including a Landing Camera, a Panoramic Camera, a Lunar Mineralogical Spectrometer,[20] and a Lunar Regolith Penetrating Radar.[21][22] Chang'e-5 collected samples using two methods, i.e., drilling for subsurface samples and scooping for surface samples. The scooping device was developed by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, consisting of Sampler A, Sampler B, Near-field Cameras, and Sealing and Packaging System.[23]

Mission profile[edit]


Chang'e 5 was planned to be launched in November 2017 by the Long March 5 rocket; however, a July 2017 failure of the referenced carrier rocket forced a delay to the original schedule two times until the end of 2020.[24] On 27 December 2019, the Long March 5 successfully returned to services, thereby allowing the current mission to proceed after Tianwen-1 mission.[25] The Chang'e 5 probe was launched at 20:30 UTC, on 23 November 2020, by Long March 5 Y-5 launch vehicle from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on Hainan Island.

Earth-Moon Transfer[edit]

Landing site of Chang'e 5 near the Louville Omega hill (Louville ω, from the nearby Louville crater)

After launch, Chang'e-5 applied its first orbital correction at 14:06 UTC, on 24 November 2020, second orbital correction at 14:06 UTC, on 25 November 2020, entered the lunar orbital at 14:58 UTC, on 28 November 2020 (elliptical orbital), adjusted its orbit to a circular orbit at 12:23 UTC, on 29 November 2020, and the Lander/Ascender separated from the Orbiter/Returner at 20:10 UTC, on 29 November 2020, in preparing for landing.[26]

Landing site[edit]

Photograph of the Chang'e 5 lander on the surface of the Moon taken by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Lander/Ascender landed on the Moon on 1 December 2020 at 15:11 UTC.[27] The Chang'e 5 landing site is at 43.1°N (in latitude), 51.8°W (in longitude) in the Northern Oceanus Procellarum near a huge volcanic complex, Mons Rümker,[28] located in the northwest lunar near side. The Chang'e 5 landing site, named Statio Tianchuan,[29] is within the Procellarum KREEP Terrain,[30] with elevated heat-producing elements, thin crust, and prolonged volcanism. This area is characterized by some of the youngest mare basalts on the Moon (~1.21 billion years old),[31] with elevated titanium, thorium, and olivine abundances,[31] which have never been sampled by Apollo or Luna mission.[2]

The Geological Map of the Chang'e-5 Landing Site.[32] This region is covered by widely-spread young mare basalts and Rima Sharp is the most distinct volcanic feature in the region.

Back to the Earth[edit]

Chang'e 5 return capsule transported back to CAST, where the sample container was unsealed.

The Chang'e 5 Ascender lifted off from Oceanus Procellarum at 15:10 UTC, on 3 December 2020, and six minutes later, arrived in lunar orbit.[33] The Ascender docked with the Orbiter/Returner combination in the lunar orbit on 5 December 2020 at 21:42 UTC, and the samples were transferred to the return capsule at 22:12 UTC. The Ascender separated from the Orbiter/Returner combination on 6 December 2020 at 04:35 UTC.[34] After completing its role of the mission, the Ascender was commanded to deorbit on 7 December 2020, at 22:59 UTC, and crashed into the Moon's surface at 23:30 UTC, in the area of (~30°S, 0°E).[35] On 13 December 2020 at 01:51 UTC, from a distance of 230 kilometers from the lunar surface, the Orbiter and Returner successfully fired four engines to enter the Moon-Earth Hohmann transfer orbit.[36]

The electronics and systems on the Chang'e 5 lunar lander were expected to cease working on 11 December 2020, due to the Moon's extreme cold and lack of a radioisotope heater unit. However, engineers were also prepared for the possibility that the Chang'e 5 lander could be damaged and stop working after acting as the launchpad for the ascender module on 3 December 2020, as turned out to be the case.[37]

On 16 December 2020 at around 18:00 UTC, the roughly 300 kg (660 lb) return capsule performed a ballistic skip reentry, in effect bouncing off the atmosphere over the Arabian Sea before re-entry. The capsule, containing around 2 kg (4.4 lb) of drilled and scooped lunar material, landed in the grasslands of Siziwang Banner in the Ulanqab region of south central Inner Mongolia. Surveillance drones spotted the Returner capsule prior to its touchdown, and recovery vehicles located the capsule shortly afterwards.[38]

The next day, it was reported that Chang'e 5's service module had performed an atmospheric re-entry avoidance burn and has been on-course to an Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point orbit as a part of its extended mission.

Extended mission[edit]

The Chang'e 5 orbiter was successfully captured by Sun-Earth L1 Lagrange point at 5:39 UTC, on 15 March 2021, and became the first Chinese spacecraft to orbit Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point. The distance at the time of capture was about 936,700 kilometers from Earth and the orbiter entered an orbit with a period of about 6 months.[39] On its 88 days journey to L1, mission control conducted 2 orbital maneuvers and 2 trajectory correction maneuvers. It made a lunar flyby in extended mission on 9 September 2021.[40]

Lunar sample research[edit]

Lunar soil sample collected by China's Chang'e 5 mission displayed at Airshow China 2021.
Lunar soil sample collected by China's Chang'e 5 mission displayed at Airshow China 2021.

The ~1,731 g (61.1 oz) of lunar samples collected by Chang'e-5 have enormous scientific meanings in terms of their abnormally young ages (<2.0 billion years old).[31][2] At least 27 fundamental questions can be answered by those samples on lunar chronology, petrogenesis, regional setting, geodynamic and thermal evolution, and regolith formation, especially, calibrating the lunar chronology function, constraining the lunar dynamo status, unraveling the deep mantle properties, and assessing the Procellarum KREEP Terrain structures.[2]

Dating this relatively young part of the Moon's surface would provide an additional calibration point for estimating the surface ages of other Solar System bodies.[41][42] Wu Yanhua (吴艳华), deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced that the new samples will be shared with the UN and international partners for space research purposes.[43][44]

Preliminary analysis of the basalt lava samples taken from Oceanus Procellarum led by the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences determined the age of these rocks to be close to 1.96 billion years old, filling a critical age-gap of available lunar rock samples, which, among other applications, can assist in further calibrating planetary crater chronological tools.[45]

Related missions[edit]

Artist's impression of the lander on the Moon

Chang'e 5-T1[edit]

Chang'e 5-T1 is an experimental robotic lunar mission that was launched on 23 October 2014 to conduct atmospheric re-entry tests on the capsule design that was planned to be used in the Chang'e 5 mission.[46][47] Its service module, called DFH-3A, remained in orbit around the Earth before being relocated via Earth–Moon L2 to lunar orbit by 13 January 2015, where it is using its remaining 800 kg of fuel to test maneuvers critical to future lunar missions.[48]

International collaboration[edit]

The European Space Agency (ESA) has supported the Chang'e 5 mission by providing tracking via ESA's Kourou station located in French Guiana. ESA has tracked the spacecraft during the launch and landing phases while providing on-call backup for China's ground stations throughout the mission. Data from the Kourou station has helped the mission control team at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center to determine the spacecraft's health and orbit status. Chang'e 5 was returned to Earth on 16 December 2020. During the landing phase, ESA used its Maspalomas Station located in the Canary Islands and operated by the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Spain, to support the tracking efforts.[49]

International reactions[edit]

Science journalist Bob McDonald discussed Chang'e 5 in comparison to the Soviet Luna programme, which involved Luna 15, Luna 16 and Luna 24 being sent to the Moon. Luna 15 attempted to grab a sample of lunar soil and return it to Earth before the American Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins got back in July 1969. It crashed during its landing attempt, hence losing the opportunity for a "propaganda coup". The Luna 16 mission successfully returned about 100 grams of lunar soil a year later and two other sample return missions succeeded in subsequent years, the most recent being Luna 24 in 1976. McDonald considers China just entered another Moon race, except this time the robots might be in the lead.[50]

Bradley Perrett, Asia-Pacific Bureau Chief of Aviation Week Network, opined that the Moon race between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s was driven by propaganda: a message to the world about their strength. Perrett noted that the Chang'e project was also driven by propaganda utility, but primarily for the internal audience; the reason that the Chinese government funded this mission was to show the Chinese people that "China can do it".[51]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In Standard Chinese, it is pronounced as Cháng'é.[9] Alternatively pronounced and spelled like Chang-Er in Malaysian Chinese.[10]


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External links[edit]

  • Media related to Chang'e 5 at Wikimedia Commons