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Chinese lunar orbiter prepares for home trip

Updated: Oct 27,2014 2:21 PM     

BEIJING — China’s experimental spacecraft, designed to fly around the moon and back to Earth, entered lunar orbit on Oct 27 and is making necessary preparations for its trip back home.

The orbiter, launched Friday last week atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket, entered the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence at noon of Oct 27, and is expected to remain there for the next 32 hours.

It is currently orbiting at around 60,000 kilometers from the moon and is making required adjustments for its transfer from the lunar orbit back to the terrestrial orbit scheduled for late Oct 28.

The test orbiter will then maneuver on the edge of the 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 eight-day program is a test run for Chang’e-5, China’s fourth lunar probe that is aimed to gather samples from the moon’s surface.

Earlier reports said Chang’e-5 will be launched around 2017, marking the last phase of China’s three-step moon probe project.

China carried out Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010, respectively, capping the orbital phase, the first phase of a three-step moon probe project.

The ongoing second phase saw Chang’e-3 soft land on the moon carrying the country’s first moon rover Yutu onboard in December 2013. Chang’e-4 is the backup probe of Chang’e-3 and will help pave the way for future probes.

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