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China's experimental lunar orbiter set to fly back to Earth today


BEIJING (BNS): China's experimental lunar orbiter that entered the Moon's orbit on Monday is set to fly back to Earth later Tuesday.

The unmanned spacecraft, launched aboard a Long March-3C carrier rocket Friday last, entered the Moon's gravitational sphere of influence Monday at noon and is expected to remain there for the next 32 hours, the Xinhua news agency reported.

It is currently orbiting the Moon from a distance of 60,000 kilometers and is making required adjustments for its transfer from the lunar orbit back to the terrestrial orbit scheduled for late Tuesday.

The test orbiter will then manoeuvre on the edge of Earth's atmosphere to slow from a speed of 11.2 kilometers per second before re-entry, a process that generates extremely high temperatures, the news report said.

The experimental spacecraft was launched on a eight-day mission to fly around the Moon and back to Earth in order to test technologies to be used in the Chang'e-5 -- a future unmanned probe that will conduct China's first Moon mission with a provision to return back with lunar samples.

However, soon after the launch, the spacecraft made an early adjustment to its orbit as the orbiter deviated from its intended path due to "external factors."

It is the first time China has conducted a test involving a half-orbit around the Moon at a height of 380,000 km before having the spacecraft return to Earth.

The test orbiter is a precursor to the last phase of a three-step Moon probe project.

China has already successfully conducted the Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 lunar missions in 2007 and 2010 respectively, capping the orbital phase.

The ongoing second phase saw the Chang'e-3 with the country's first Moon rover, Yutu, onboard succeed in soft landing on the Moon in December 2013.

The Chang'e-4, expected to launch next year, is the backup probe of Chang'e-3 and will help pave the way for future probes.

Tags:

China  Moon  Orbiter  Spacecraft  Space  Rocket  

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