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Emily LakdawallaOctober 23, 2014

UPDATED: China successfully launched test mission for Chang'e 5 program today

UPDATE: The launch has been successful. Here is a cell phone video of the launch, and a picture from Xinhua news.

Earth-moon round trip! China's test spacecraft enters expected orbit http://t.co/GBBsfB0xcv pic.twitter.com/HIt97ZiSNd

— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) October 23, 2014

More good news:

Xinhua has confirmed nominal orbit injection and spacecraft separation of #ChangE5T1!

— Cosmic Penguin (@Cosmic_Penguin) October 23, 2014


Earlier story:

China is launching to the Moon today! (Weather permitting.) The spacecraft will have a brief, 8-day mission, out to the Moon and back. It is an engineering test for the technology that the future Chang'e 5 sample return mission will need to return its precious samples to Earth. Chang'e 5 is scheduled to launch in 2017.

Some of you may be wondering what happened to Chang'e 4. Chang'e 3 is still operating on the Moon, but there has been no Chang'e 4 yet. Just as with the Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 orbiters, there were two lunar landers built in the runup to the Chang'e 3 launch, and the backup spacecraft remains on Earth and may yet be launched in the future as Chang'e 4. The spacecraft that is launching today is not a science mission -- it's an engineering test -- so it's not being numbered as part of the same sequence. It is called 嫦娥五号 试验器, Chang'e 5 Test Vehicle. Unfortunately, there has been some confusion about this in Western media, so you may see media reports about today's launch that name it as Chang'e 4.

Piggybacking on this launch is a mini-satellite called the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission (4M). I know some of you reading this are radio enthusiasts -- I hope you'll post in the comments if you detect the 4M signal! Included in 4M is a radio beacon provided for the Pocket Spacecraft project. (Thanks to Phil Stooke for the links to both of those.)

I have not been following this mission closely since it is not a science mission. Here are some resources where you can learn more:

Background information:

Places to look for news:

I will update this post with news after the launch.

Chang'e 5 sample return capsule

CNSA

Chang'e 5 sample return capsule
This photo was taken after successful completion of thermal vacuum testing in June 2014.

Read more: mission status, Chang'E program

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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