Components for China’s third Long March 5 rocket arrived at the country’s southern launch base this week as teams prepare for the first flight of the heavy-lift launcher since a 2017 mission ended in failure.
The launch of three experimental remote sensing satellites last week signaled the resumption of Chinese space launches following multiple rocket failures since late last year, but a senior Chinese space official has confirmed the Chang’e 5 mission to return samples from the moon remains grounded.
China’s second Long March 5 rocket fell short of orbit Sunday after lifting off from a spaceport in the southern Chinese province of Hainan, placing a cloud over the country’s plans to send a robotic sample return mission to the moon later this year.
China plans to launch a robotic mission to return samples from the lunar surface, the first such mission in four decades, in November on top of the country’s new heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, according to state media reports.
If China’s lunar exploration program goes according to plan, scientists could send a robotic lander to pick up samples from the far side of the moon and return them to Earth by the early 2020s, a top Chinese space official said.
A rover and landing platform developed as a backup for China’s Chang’e 3 moon mission will be repurposed to attempt the first touchdown on the lunar far side by the end of the decade, Chinese officials said.