The returnee of China’s Chang’e-5 probe, which carries the precious soil and stone collected from the moon, is about to complete its journey and lands in Siziwang Banner in northern China’s Inner Mongolia.
The ground team at the landing site is fully prepared for the historic task after multiple simulation exercises, the mission’s search and retrieval team said on Tuesday.
The team comes from the Chinese Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Although the task – the very last step of the Chang’e-5 mission – is back to Earth, it is still full of challenges and difficulties.
1. Landing a small spacecraft in a large area possible
The landing site at Siziwang Banner was where the manned spaceships from China’s Shenzhou made their landings. However, the size of the Chang’e-5’s reentry is only one-seventh the size of a spaceship’s reentry capsule, while its possible landing area is 16 times larger than the last. That means that the search work can be much more difficult.
2. Landing the returnee on a snow-covered ground on a cold winter night
It is now winter in Inner Mongolia and the landing site is covered in snow.
The returnee is expected to land at night, adding to the search difficulties. During the simulation exercises, powerful searchlights were installed on helicopters and ground vehicles to help them find the target quickly.
3. Complicated conditions at the landing site
It has been four years since the last search and retrieval mission was conducted at the Siziwang Banner landing site, which has since undergone major changes. Many new facilities have been built there, such as wire fences, high-voltage lines and base stations for mobile communication.
To ensure the safe landing of helicopters and the timely arrival of search vehicles, the team conducted nearly 30 topographical surveys of the potential landing area. Obstacles such as wire towers and wind gauge towers, as well as special landforms such as ravines and small lakes are all marked.
In the latest simulation exercise, after receiving the sixth landing prediction from the mission’s command center in Beijing, two groups of personnel – one with helicopters and one with ground vehicles – headed for the expected landing site simultaneously. The air team arrived quickly and the ground team helped with the pick-up work orderly.