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China prepares to launch lunar probe to collect moon rocks

Credit: Belga

China is making final preparations on Monday before sending a probe to the moon to collect lunar rocks, the first such operation in more than 40 years.

The Long March 5 rocket that will propel the spacecraft is in place on the launch pad at the Wenchang Space Launch Centre, official media said.

According to several observers, the launch could take place Tuesday morning local time. China has not announced a specific date or time, as space is considered a sensitive area.

The Chang’e 5 mission – named after a moon goddess in Chinese mythology – is the next step in China’s space programme, which struck a blow in early 2019 by landing a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, a world first.

The probe will be sent to collect lunar dust and rocks, in particular by digging down to a depth of two metres, then sending them back to Earth. These samples could then help scientists better understand the history of the Moon.

This is the first attempt to bring back lunar rocks since the unmanned mission Luna 24, successfully carried out by the former USSR in 1976.

The Chinese probe is expected to land on the Moon at the end of November. The return of the samples to Earth should take place in early to mid-December.

It has already landed two small remote-controlled robots (the “Jade Rabbits”) on the Moon during the Chang’e 3 (in 2013) and Chang’e 4 (started in 2018) missions.

The Asian giant is investing billions of euros in its space programme to catch up with Europe, Russia and the United States.

It sent its first astronaut into space in 2003, hopes to assemble a large space station by 2022 and intends to send men to the moon in about 10 years’ time.

The Brussels Times