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Mission to bring back lunar soil

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)

08:14, March 16, 2012

Module will collect samples from moon's surface, space official says

Preparations are well advanced to launch a moon mission and bring about 2 kilograms of lunar soil samples to Earth, a leading space program official said. The mission is part of the third phase of the lunar exploration program.

Engineers are expected to lay the groundwork this year, said Hu Hao, chief designer of the lunar exploration program's third phase and a deputy to the National People's Congress, which ended on Wednesday.

The mission will involve a "relay" approach, that will require precision rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit, he said.

The mission will see a rocket launched from Earth. A four-module spacecraft will then enter lunar orbit.

Two modules will land on the moon, one will scoop up soil. This will be placed into the ascending module that will blast off from the lunar surface and dock with the orbiting module. The sample will then be transferred from this module to one that will be jettisoned for Earth re-entry.

Declining to confirm the launch date, though previous reports suggested 2017, Hu said that several key technologies have to be perfected, including the launch of the ascending module from the lunar surface and the collection of soil samples.

"It's impossible to know the conditions that the module descending onto the moon will experience," he said.

They could be sandy, or rocky, and collecting soil samples depends on the type of conditions at the landing site, he said.

Getting samples is notoriously difficult. A mission sent by the former Soviet Union once had a drill attached to the landing module but even that failed to deeply penetrate the lunar surface.

Its three missions collected just over 300 grams of lunar soil. The United States had better success. Its Apollo program returned 381.7 kilograms of rocks and other material from the moon, thanks in large part to astronauts. The US gave China one gram of lunar soil as a gift in 1978. China requires lunar soil to conduct scientific research.

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