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Emily LakdawallaSeptember 3, 2015

Chang'e 5 test vehicle maps future sample return site

This summer the Chinese space agency has been making progress toward its planned 2017 launch of the Chang'e 5 robotic sample return mission, performing low-altitude imaging of the future landing site. According to an article from the China News Network, the Chang'e 5 test vehicle performed the imaging campaign between August 30 and September 2 from an altitude of 30 kilometers above the lunar nearside. Thanks to Quanzhi Ye for translating the text for me.

It's not clear where on the Moon this is, or what the scale of the image is. Planetary cartographer extraordinaire Phil Stooke attempted to narrow it down from the lengths of the shadows in the craters: "The terminator was crossing the Mare Crisium area over the few days the images were taken. I had been expecting a landing in Oceanus Procellarum, but the sun would have been overhead there, and these images have shadows suggesting a lower sun elevation. Possibly a site in the eastern maria, but west of Crisium. Not much to go on yet."

When I first read this news I was terribly confused because I thought that I'd heard that they had planned a landing on the farside. But I was recalling the wrong mission. It's Chang'e 4 -- the backup module to Chang'e 3 -- that is planned for a future landing on the lunar farside. That launch is not planned until around 2020. In case you are as confused as I was, here's a brief summary of the Chang'e program:

Keep your eyes on unmannedspaceflight.com, NASAspaceflight.com, and a Google search on 嫦娥五(Chang'e 5) for more news!

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Read more: mission status, the Moon, Chang'E program, Chang'e 5

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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