Chinese spacecraft takes off from moon with samples

Chinese spacecraft takes off from moon with samples

The ascent vehicle lifted off from the moon shortly after 11pm Beijing time on Thursday (3pm Irish time) and was due to rendezvous with a return vehicle in lunar orbit, then transfer the samples to a capsule, according to the China National Space Administration. It released images of the barren landing site showing the lander's shadow.

NASA said it will pay a private firm $1 to collect a sample of the moon as part of its initiative to solicit help from commercial companies to obtain moon rocks and dust. In January 2019, the Chang'e-4 probe landed on the far side of the moon, the first space probe from any nation to do so.

China has poured billions into its military-run space programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022 and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

This image provided by China National Space Administration shows the ascender of Chang'e-5 spacecraft blasting off from the moon surface on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020.

"The plan is for the mission to take place in 2023, but we are working with several different lander companies, which could result in an earlier launch date", Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus told the BBC.

This week's landing is "a historic step in China's cooperation with the worldwide community in the peaceful use of outer space", said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying.

The US space agency Nasa awarded contracts to four companies on Thursday to collect lunar samples for US$1 to $15,000, rock-bottom prices that are meant to set a precedent for future exploitation of space resources by the private sector.

The first flag was said by astronaut Buzz Aldrin to have been placed too close to the Apollo lunar module and was, he said, probably blown away when the module blasted off. Collecting samples, including from asteroids, is an increasing focus of many space programs. "Chang'e-5 still has some key steps to negotiate to achieve mission success".

Chinese space programme officials have said they envision future crewed missions along with robotic ones, including possibly a permanent research base. No timeline or other details have been announced.

"The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is executing a long-term strategy to exploit USA technology, talent, and capital to build up its military space and counter space programs and advance its strategic interests at the expense of the United States", the U.S.

If the return journey is successful, China will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the Moon, following the USA and the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s.

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016.

China, along with neighbours Japan and India, also has joined the growing race to explore Mars.