China announced it has plans to get to the Moon very soon, and it aims to mine the lunar resources. China is planning to send Chang’e 4 to evaluate the other side of the moon, but it is through Chang’e 5 that it expects to accomplish the mission of collecting lunar minerals.

The lunar race started several decades ago, but China joined it just a few years ago. Now, China has big plans for the moon and they include the extraction of its precious mineral resources. They are planning to send a mission later this year to gather samples from the moon, thus evaluating  the possibilities of a future mining operation in the natural satellite.

Image credit:
Image credit:

“With a weight of 8.2 tonnes, the lunar probe is comprised of four parts: an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander,” said Ye Peijian, one of China’s leading aerospace experts and a consultant to the program, as quoted in a report by state-run Chinese newspaper Xinhua.

China’s Chang’e program

China’s first mission to the Moon occurred in 2007, and after a decade, it has given a twist to lunar missions. It is planning to start a mining operation to extract the valuable resources hidden mainly in the North and South Pole of the Moon. The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) or Chang’e program– named after the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e – is a series of robotic missions to the moon that are driven by the China National Space Administration.

The first spacecraft was the Chang’e 1 lunar orbiter, launched in October 2007. The second was the Chang’e 2 which was launched in 2010, and it was followed in 2013 by the Chang’e 3, which discovered a new type of moon rock caused by the lunar volcanic activity.

Image credit: Universe Today
Image credit: Universe Today

The Chang’e 5 mission will be essential for China to start mining the moon surface. It involves sending a robotic probe to gather all the samples and take them back to Earth for study. It is set for November 2017. On the other hand, its Chang’e 4 mission will aim to evaluate the unseen side of the moon surface. It is planned to occur on 2018, achieving humankind’s first soft landing on the dark side of the moon.

The Chang’e 5 will be comprised by an orbiter, a returner, an ascender and a lander. The lander will put the retrieved samples in a vessel in the ascender.

“Then the ascender will take off from the moon to dock with the orbiter and the returner orbiting the moon, and transfer the samples to the returner. The orbiter and returner then head back to the earth, separating from each other when they are several thousand kilometers from earth. Finally, the returner will reenter the earth,” stated Ye Peijian.

Chang’e 5 will be launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan Province. For China, Chang’e 5 is the first automated moon surface sampling mission, the first moon take-off, the first return flight at speed close to second cosmic velocity. The development of the Chang’e 5 has entered the end of its flight model phase already

The plan is to establish a mining operation center on the moon. China has also expressed that one of the aims of the program is to pave the way for a manned mission to the moon, they expect to accomplish it from 2025 to 2030.

There is an increasing interest in the resources in the moon

China is not the only country that has shown interest in exploring and extracting the moon’s minerals. Several companies and space agencies have thought about it too.

It is estimated that 1.6 billion tons of water ice can be found at the lunar poles. As well, there is an abundance of rare elements below the lunar surface that are not common or that don’t exist on the Earth. The truth is that this interest might all be drawn towards one thing: Fuel. According to the science writer, Richard Cornfield, where there’s ice, there is fuel, that is why all the space agencies and private firms are getting involved on the issue because they want to turn the Moon into a money-making machine.

On this, China National Space Administration’s Vice Director, Wu Yanhua, said last year that his nation is planning to send robots to explore the poles of the moon. As well, Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company (SEC), is already planning how to mine the water ice reserves in the moon to turn them into rocket propellant in the form of hydrogen and oxygen, which would then be sold to space partners in low Earth orbit. The company stated that they want to build a gas station in space.

Moon Express, a private firm, wants to use lunar water ice as fuel too. The difference is that they would use “high-test peroxide” (HTP), which has a long and illustrious history as a propellant.

Source: Building a Better World News