China lunar mission readies for return to Earth

China's 'blue marble' shot puts all things lunar in perspective

Earth and moon from Chang'e 5t1

China's Chang'e 5T1 mission has passed its half-way point, rounding the far side of the Moon and beginning its brief trip to Earth for its scheduled October 31 return.

The mission is a test run for a 2017 trip that will drop a lander on the Moon and collect samples for return to Earth. The current mission is slated to touch down in Inner Mongolia. If all goes well, that will mean it has to decelerate from 11.2 km/second during re-entry.

The completed half-orbit of the moon followed an orbital adjustment last Friday, which according to China's Xhinhua newsagency was required due to “external factors” during the transfer from terrestrial to lunar orbit.

The spacecraft launched atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Friday. It's an engineering mission designed to the test guidance, navigation and control systems that'll be used for the 2017 mission's re-entry.

Prior missions in the program included the Chang'e-3 phase, which successfully delivered the Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) to the lunar surface late in 2013. Alas, the rover ceased to function on January 25, awoke in February, but gradually faded away.

Netizens and astronomers are excited about some snapshots the Chang'e 5T1 managed during its orbit, including the stunner below, showing moon and Earth in one frame. ®

Earth and moon from Chang'e 5t1

This image, released through Xinhua, shows the moon and Earth

as snapped by the Chang'e 5T1 orbiter

Bootnote: The Register is curious regarding one aspect of the image. Unmannedspaceflight.com forums, where the above image was posted with a Xhinhua credit, earlier had the image below as part of this post.

This apparently aired on Chinese TV, and shows the Earth, moon and spacecraft. Chang'e 5T1 carried with it the Manfred Memorial Moon Mission (M4), a private satellite destined to orbit the moon. But that craft appears not to includea camera.

The shot above could be the M4, but the sources aren't saying. Might it perhaps be possible that Westerners have picked up on an "artist's impression" image, used for a TV news story, as being a shot taken from the spacecraft?

Readers' thoughts welcome ... ®

China TV image - Chang'e 5T1

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