After the semi-success with its Yutu rover, China is already working hard towards the next step in its Moon exploration programme

China to launch test spacecraft for lunar sample return

China is preparing a recoverable Moon orbiter to be launched by the end of this year as a test run for a future sample return mission.

Over the weekend, the spacecraft was transported to the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the south-west Sichuan province for testing, Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence said.

The orbiter, basically a technology demonstration mission, is designed to reach lunar orbit and afterwards to return to Earth at an escape velocity of 11.2km paving the way for the Chang'e-5 lunar probe, which will consist of a similar orbiter and a lander tasked to collect samples on the surface of the Moon to be returned to Earth.

China still has its Yutu rover on the lunar surface, delivered in 2013 aboard the Chang'e-3 probe. However, the rover has been crippled since the first month of its mission after a folding mechanism failed to cover it for protection against the harsh conditions of a lunar night.

According to available information, the Yutu rover is still transmitting some data although it is mostly immobile.

Prior to the launch of the ambitious sample return mission, China will have to develop Moon surface take-off systems, sampling encapsulation and rendezvous and docking capabilities to rejoin the sample-carrying spacecraft with the orbiter ahead of the supersonic re-entry though the Earth's atmosphere.

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