Chinese mission that landed on Moon has transferred rocks to an orbiter which is due to land in northern grasslands in Inner Mongolia region in mid-December.
A Chinese probe that landed on the Moon has transferred rocks to an orbiter in preparation for returning samples of the lunar surface to Earth for the first time in almost 45 years, the space agency has announced.
The ascent stage docked with a robot spacecraft orbiting the Moon at 5:42 am on Sunday (2142 GMT Saturday), state media reported, citing the China National Space Administration.
A container with 2 kilogrammes (4.4 pounds) of rocks was transferred to the orbiter 30 minutes later.
A capsule carrying the rock samples is due to land in China’s northern grasslands in the Inner Mongolia region in mid-December. They will be the first fresh samples of the lunar surface obtained by scientists since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 probe in 1976.
More stunning visuals from Chang'e-5. The ascent vehicle has separated from the orbiter. This followed yesterday's first ever automated rendezvous and docking in lunar orbit and transfer of the lunar samples to the reentry capsule. Source: https://t.co/eox8MILUnO pic.twitter.com/zywv1JpF4l— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) December 6, 2020
After docking in lunar orbit, the Chang’e 5 sample carrier containing moon rocks was transferred from the mission’s ascent craft into the vehicle that will return the samples to Earth. https://t.co/kS5te7aytd pic.twitter.com/UaJZulorDR— Spaceflight Now (@SpaceflightNow) December 6, 2020
The manoeuvre was part of the ambitious Chang'e-5 mission, named after a mythical Chinese Moon goddess, to bring back the first lunar samples in four decades.
The upper stage of the Chang'e lander blasted off Friday from the lunar surface. If the mission succeeds, it will make China the third country after the United States and the former Soviet Union to bring Moon rocks to Earth.
The CNSA released a photo taken by the orbiter showing the ascent stage rocket approaching for a rendezvous.
China is looking to catch up with the United States and Russia after taking decades to match their achievements and has poured billions into its military-run space programme.
Its space agency said previously that "before liftoff, the Chinese flag was raised on the Moon's surface".
Scientists hope the samples from Chang'e-5 will help them learn more about the Moon's origins and volcanic activity on its surface.