China will launch a mission to bring lunar samples back to Earth later this year.
The probe will be launched in November from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in Hainan Province, aboard the Long March-5 rocket.
“With a weight of 8.2 tons, the lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander,” says China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. consultant Ye Peijian, according to official broadcaster CCTV.
After reaching the moon, the Chang’e-5 lunar probe (named for the Chinese lunar goddess) will deploy its lander to the moon’s surface, where it will deposit samples in the ascender craft; the ascender will then take off and dock with the orbiter, where the samples will be transferred to the returning craft.
The launch of Chang’e-5 would mark the beginning of the third phase of China’s lunar program. So far, the country has successfully launched two lunar orbiters — Chang’e-1 and 2 — and one lander — Chang’e-3, which soft landed a rover on the surface of the moon in 2013.
In late 2013, China became the third country to land a rover on the moon’s surface, joining the U.S. and Russia in that elite club.