Chinese rush to the moon, and the Japanese to asteroids

(ORDO NEWS) — The experience that China has been gaining over the past five voyages to the moon will lay the technological foundation for manned missions. Simultaneously with the successes of the Chinese lunar probe, reports came from Japan – a capsule with samples of material collected from the surface of the crater of a distant asteroid was sent to Earth.

On Sunday, December 6, China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) reported that its Chang’e-5 lunar probe had successfully docked to the orbital complex and transferred rock samples from the lunar surface to it. In mid-December, they should be delivered to Earth.

The very fact of obtaining lunar soil is by no means a sensation: back in 1969, the USA did it for the first time, and a year later – the USSR. Another thing is outstanding: the PRC is doing on the moon what no one has done since 1976, when both superpowers at that time actually abandoned their space programs, although now they are thinking to change the situation.

According to media reports, the Chinese lunar rover collected 2 kg of regolith. For comparison, within the framework of the American Apollo program (six missions), a total of 382 kilograms of the breed were delivered, the Soviet Luna program – 425 grams (three missions). But in fact, this is not so important, because it is, as everyone understands, not about kilograms, but about big politics.

The Chinese are not in the least worried that they are following the same path that the United States and the Soviet Union ran in the 1960s and 1970s. The Chinese are solid people, they never rush anywhere and follow their own path. Even if this requires reinventing the wheel over and over again (and it doesn’t matter that in this “bicycle” many of the details suspiciously resemble those that were previously invented by competitors).

Be that as it may, and China today is the only state that is substantively engaged in our natural satellite. During this mission, the goal was to practice a number of complex maneuvers in orbit, including using an unmanned module and docking in lunar orbit. China was the first in the world to dock two parts of its Chang’e-5 lunar module in the orbit of the Moon at a distance of 380 thousand kilometers from Earth. The predecessors did not use such technology, in particular, the American astronauts in 1972 carried out the maneuver in manual mode.

The experience that the PRC is gaining over the past five trips to the moon will lay the technological foundation for manned missions, which is the next step in the PRC’s lunar program, planned for 2036. And there, probably, it will come to the creation of the station. Colonization or not, but it will definitely help make the jump further – to Mars possible. In the summer of 2020, China has already sent its first rover, Tianwen 1, to the Red Planet.

Chinese steps

The program managers did not mention valuable minerals this time. Although at the beginning of the Lunar program in 2003, much was said about the prospects for the extraction and provision of humanity (the Chinese) with helium-3, which is estimated to be at least 500 thousand tons on the Moon. This isotope can be used to generate energy in thermonuclear power plants. True, its practical feasibility in today’s conditions looks rather illusory – the cost of lunar helium will be truly cosmic, not to mention the fact that the technology of the actual thermonuclear reactor (tokomak) has not yet been developed, and it is not known when it will be.

As for other Chinese studies, during the previous expedition at the beginning of last year, the Chinese probe first sat down on the far side of the moon, and even carried out an important experiment: the Chang’e-4 apparatus delivered cotton seeds to the moon, which sprouted. There have been no previous attempts to grow plants in low gravity and high radiation conditions. If in the future it is possible to grow crops in unearthly conditions, for example, vegetables, this will tremendously expand the possibilities of long-term space expeditions, including to Mars.

It took 13 years to prepare the current lunar mission. Its duration is less than a month. This did not become a revolution in science, like most of the PRC’s previous achievements on the space route, but certainly a step in Beijing’s ambitious plans.

In the coming years, the Celestial Empire plans to create a reusable launch vehicle and commission its own orbital station by 2022; actively develops the “orbital infrastructure” and has demonstrated the ability to destroy objects in orbit using anti-satellite weapons; inaugurated the world’s first quantum information transfer satellite and is making the most launches of any country.

They do not spare money for this, although China spends seven times less than the United States on its space program. The covid-19 pandemic has made adjustments to the space plans of the Americans, who were forced to postpone several launches, but did not stop the Chinese. The race in space is gaining new momentum and pace. The main participants are the United States and China. But other countries are not standing still either.

Japanese breakthrough

Simultaneously with the success of the Chinese lunar probe, reports came from Japan: the Hayabusa-2 probe of the Japan Aerospace Research Agency (Jaxa), after a 6-year journey, sent a capsule to Earth with two samples of material collected from the surface and from an artificially made crater of the distant asteroid Ryugu. whose age is 4.6 billion years, and the distance from us is 300 million kilometers. The weight of the successfully delivered material is only 1 gram, but it can help shed light on the origin of life and the formation of the universe.

“We still do not know about the origin of life on Earth, and thanks to this mission, if we can study and understand these organic materials with Ryugu, we may find the organic materials that were the source of life on Earth,” said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa.

Half of the samples will be donated to Jaxa, the US space agency NASA and other international organizations, the rest will be kept for further study “as analytical technology becomes available.” Scientists believe that the material that makes up the asteroid has remained unchanged since the creation of the universe, while the larger celestial bodies have undergone radical changes.

“Hayabusa-2” “shot” the capsule to Earth and in the meantime continues its mission. It will make a series of revolutions around the Sun, before roughly approaching in July 2026 the first of the asteroids called 2001 CC21 (the goal is to develop knowledge of how to protect the Earth from asteroids). After that, the probe will go to its main target – a spherical asteroid with a diameter of only 30 meters – 1998 KY26. The expected arrival at the target 300 million kilometers from Earth is July 2031.

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