Chinese lunar orbiter prepares to return home

Beijing, Oct 27 (IANS) An experimental Chinese spacecraft, designed to fly around the moon and back to earth, entered lunar orbit Monday and is making necessary preparations for its trip back home.

The orbiter, launched Friday last week atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket, entered the moon’s gravitational sphere of influence Monday at noon, and is expected to remain there for the next 32 hours, Xinhua reported.
It is currently orbiting at around 60,000 km from the moon and is making required adjustments for its transfer from the lunar orbit back to the terrestrial orbit scheduled for late Tuesday.
The test orbiter will then manoeuvre on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere to slow down from a speed of 11.2 km per second before re-entry, a process that generates extremely high temperatures.
The eight-day programme is a test run for Chang’e-5, China’s fourth lunar probe that is aimed to gather samples from the moon’s surface.
Earlier reports said Chang’e-5 will be launched around 2017, marking the last phase of China’s three-step moon probe project.
China carried out Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010, respectively, capping the orbital phase, the first phase of a three-step moon probe project.
The ongoing second phase saw Chang’e-3 soft land on the moon carrying the country’s first moon rover Yutu on board in December 2013. Chang’e-4 is the backup probe of Chang’e-3 and will help pave the way for future probes.