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China's lunar probe sets 'small goal': to retrieve moon dust samples in 2017

(People's Daily Online)    16:49, January 03, 2017

In 2017, China’s space industry will continue to move forward with a number of important projects, from lunar probes and the Beidou navigation system to experimental satellites.

Tianzhou-1 under test

Cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 to deliver propellant to Tiangong-2

China's first cargo spacecraft Tianzhou-1 will be sent into the space in the first half of 2017, blasting off from Hainan province. It will dock with the Tiangong-2 space station to carry out experiments.

According to Li Jian, vice director of Beijing Aerospace Control Center, Tianzhou-1 has two independently designed propellant tanks. It will deliver one tank of propellant to the space station; the propellant for its own use can also be transferred to the space station.

The design of its orbit is different from those of previous spacecraft.

"The Shenzhou spacecraft completes 31 laps to finish docking," Li explained. "The cargo spacecraft can fly more laps to save fuel, which is used to adjust its position. The more [fuel] it saves, the more it can supply to the space station." Li said a fast docking experiment would also be conducted. After docking with Tiangong-2, Tianzhou-1 will operate for about six months.

Lunar probe Chang'e-3 lands on the moon. [File photo]

Chang'e-5 lunar probe to retrieve moon dust samples

China will launch the Chang'e-5 lunar probe around December 2017. The probe will land on the moon's surface and retrieve moon dust samples.

According to Ye Peijian, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chang’e-5 is composed of four modules: a service module, a return vehicle, a lander and an ascent vehicle. After entering moon orbit, the lander and ascent vehicle will land on the moon. The sample-collecting device on the lander will take samples and place them aboard the ascent vehicle, which will take off from the moon's surface and dock with the service module and return vehicle. After transferring the samples to the service module, the ascent vehicle will separate from the service module and return vehicle. The service module and return vehicle will fly toward Earth and finally separate just thousands of kilometers away from the ground. The samples will be carried to Earth by the return vehicle.

According to Hu Hao, chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar probe project, the Chang’e-5 weighs 8.2 tons. It will be launched by the Long March-5 rocket.

The Beidou navigation system will begin to build a global network in the new year. At present, there are 22 Beidou navigation satellites in orbit. Of them, seven are new-generation satellites.

“If we can launch 18 new Beidou satellites before 2018, a global constellation will be formed,” said Ran Chengqi.

China will also launch the Gaofen-5 remote sensing satellite and Chinasat-16 broadcasting and communication satellite among others in the new year. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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