Beijing, Nov 1: China on Saturday successfully completed its first return mission to the moon with its unmanned orbiter landing back on Earth.
With this achievement, China has become only the third country in the world to do so after the former Soviet Union and the US accomplished the feat about 40 years ago.
According Xinhua news agency report, Chinese search teams recovered the orbiter at the designated landing area, about 500 kilometres away from Beijing.
In the Chinese space programme, the test lunar orbiter landed in Siziwang Banner of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region early Saturday morning over a week after it was launched to test its ability to go to the lunar orbit and return to Earth.
The last documented mission of this kind was by the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
Launched on Friday last week, the orbiter reportedly traversed 840,000 kilometres on its eight-day mission and took some incredible pictures of the Earth and moon together.
The re-entry process began at around 6:13 a.m. (local time) with the orbiter approaching the Earth at a velocity of about 11.2 kilometres per second.
The high speed led to a lot of friction between the orbiter and air and high temperatures on the craft’s exterior, generating an ion sheath that cut off contact between ground command and the orbiter.
To help it slow down, the craft is designed to “bounce” off the edge of the atmosphere, before re-entering again.
The process has been compared to a stone skipping across water and can shorten the “braking distance” for the orbiter, said Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer with the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre.
The “bounce” was one of the biggest challenges of the mission because the craft must enter the atmosphere at a very precise angle.
An error of 0.2 degrees would have rendered the mission a failure, he reportedly added.
(With Agency Inputs)