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“Bennu is a time capsule,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told the MIT Technology Review. “It has been out there for 4.5 billion years and carries the history of that environment with it.”
While this would be the first attempt to collect dirt from Bennu, asteroid sample collection isn’t new.
So far, Japan is the only country to successfully complete such a mission, after collecting a sample from the asteroid Itokawa in 2005, and then from asteroid Ryugu in 2018. However, while Japan’s spacecraft Hayabusa 2 collected dust by firing high speed space bullets into the surface, NASA scientists are opting for another method, called TAGSAM — short for “touch-and-go acquisition mechanism.”
The plan, which will take 4.5 hours to orchestrate, will see scientists carefully nudge OSIRIS-REx out of its orbit toward the asteroid’s surface. They will use a natural feature tracking system that ensures the right location for landing and thrusters to match the spacecraft’s speed with the asteroid’s rotation to ensure it lands with correct contact and velocity.
As the spacecraft is directed towards the crater, the TAGSAM, a 3.35 metre-long arm with a collection head fitted on the end, is deployed. It will fire nitrogen gas onto the surface to stir up material toward the head for it to scoop — ideally particles that are two centimetres or smaller.
If the arm detects danger, it will execute an abort burn, launching the spacecraft away from the surface.
Unfurling China's flag on moon_china.org.cn – China.org.cn
The China National Space Administration Friday released images showing China’s national flag unfurled from the Chang’e-5 probe on the moon.
The images were taken by a panoramic camera installed on the lander-ascender combination of the probe, before the ascender blasted off from the moon with lunar samples late Thursday.
In one of the images, a robotic arm to collect lunar samples can be seen next to the flag.
On Dec. 15, 2013, color images showed the Chinese flag on the country’s first moon rover Yutu, the first time the five-star red flag had been pictured on an extraterrestrial body.
Unlike the flags in China’s previous lunar missions, the flag on Chang’e-5 was made of real fabric, rather than a spray coating. Chinese engineers and technicians revealed the advanced engineering behind the special flag.
A flag made from traditional fabrics would most likely lose color and disintegrate in the harsh lunar environment of abrasive dust, unfiltered cosmic rays and solar flares.
The flag must also be as light and compact as possible, as the spacecraft has very little room for anything more than scientific equipment.
Last but not least, how to make the flag stay perfect en route to the moon and look good on camera?
The flag team from China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation Ltd. chose a scroll design, so the flag unfurls smooth and flat and not wrinkled and drooping.
It took them more than a year to find a new composite material that could stand the harsh environment and be dyed in China’s vivid national colors. After being rolled up, the fabric will not stick together in temperatures ranging from 150 degrees Celsius to 150 degrees below zero. The flag made from the fabric only weighs 12 grams.
Li Yunfeng, director of the flag system, said the flag system used a mechanical structure that has been applied to the unfolding of solar panels on satellites and spacecrafts. The structure also makes the system weighing no more than 1 kg.
At the top is a hollow ball structure to fix the flag. Engineer Huang Min and lathe operator Liao Guangheng were inspired by Gashapon capsule toys in making it so light.
A flag represents the dignity and honor of a country, said Huang and Liao: “We have to make sure it’s spotless and infallible.”
A detonator unfurls the flag. To make sure it unfurled in one second sharp, the team simulated the lunar environment with a massive temperature difference between day and night, and carried out dozens of tests.
Liu Haigang, a veteran milling machine operator, said the parts he was responsible for were the most difficult challenge of his career.
He said he felt so proud when he finally put the finished pieces in the box as it was like looking at a work of art.
“When it lands on the moon, I’ll tell my grandson ‘Grandpa made this’.”
China’s Chang’e-5 probe was launched on Nov. 24, and its lander-ascender combination touched down on the north of the Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, also known as the Ocean of Storms, on the near side of the moon on Dec. 1.
After the samples were collected and sealed, the ascender of Chang’e-5 took off from the lunar surface late Thursday, and is expected to carry out unmanned rendezvous and docking with the orbiter-returner in lunar orbit, an unprecedented feat.
Chang’e-5 is one of the most complicated and challenging missions in Chinese aerospace history, as well as the world’s first moon-sample mission in more than 40 years.
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Chinese Chang'e-5 Is Returning From Moon With Rocks, Left A Flag To Celebrate – KCCU
China’s lunar probe Chang’e-5 is on its way back to Earth after a brief visit to the moon Thursday. The craft collected soil and rock samples over the course of about 19 hours and then left the lunar surface.
The samples are expected to land on Earth around the middle of the month.
Before it left, the spacecraft planted a flag there — making China only the second country to leave its national banner on the moon. China hadn’t deployed one in two previous landings.
Getting a flag to the moon isn’t easy and solar radiation has likely bleached out the ones planted by U.S. astronauts, according to NASA.
For China, its most recent accomplishment has a nostalgic feel, aerospace expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping told China’s Global Times. It has been more than half a century since the NASA Apollo 11 crew walked on the moon.
“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the U.S. astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Zhongping said. “But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.”
The Soviet Union was the first country to leave its mark on the moon, intentionally smashing the Luna 2 probe there in 1959.
Chinese national flag debuts on moon: CNSA – Global Times
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday showed photos of the first Chinese national flag on the moon. The photo was taken with the flag on board the Chang’e-5 lander vehicle before the ascender blasted off from the moon, marking another proud, inspiring moment in the memories of the Chinese people.
As soon as the photo was released, it brought cheers from Chinese netizens on twitter-like Sina Weibo. As thousands of netizens left emojis of hearts, clapping hands, and celebrating ribbons on the social platform, some said “if there’s a color for a miracle, it must be the color red on our Chinese national flag.”
The flag, more stylish than before, was made from some special material and weighs only 12 grams. It is the third time that the five-starred red flag on the moon following the mission’s two predecessors, chang’e-3 and -4. Only this time, it comes in the form of actual fabrics other than previous coating on.
The Chinese national flag made its moon debut in December 2013 during the country’s first lunar landing mission of Chang’e-3, and it was recorded in pictures from the spacecraft’s lander and its rover Yutu-1 took for each other.
Chang’e-4 lander and rover Yutu-2 brought China’s national flag to the dark side of the moon, as the Chinese spacecraft made a historic landing in the unvisited region in January 2019.
The flags that Chang’e-3 and -4 carried were in the form of the craft’s coatings, rather than an actual flag. Chinese space technological development has allowed it to take a step forward in the Chang’e-5 mission, the third consecutive safe soft landing on the moon in seven years.
The Chang’e-5 flag presentation system was developed by China Space Sanjiang Group under the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, better known as the CASIC.
To ensure a complete and smooth unfolding of the flag, the system adopted a secondary rod-type structure, which is applied in solar panel extending for satellites and other types of spacecraft, CASIC developers told the Global Times on Thursday.
The system weight has been controlled at around one kilogram, and all connecting parts of the system have been given special protection, such as coldness-resistance measures, to help overcome unfavorable lunar surface conditions, including a drastic temperature difference on the moon ranging from 150 C to minus 150 C, Li Yunfeng, the project leader, said in a statement the CASIC company sent to the Global Times.
“An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” so the research team also spent more than a year selecting the proper materials to make sure the eventual flag would be strong enough, survive under extreme coldness and heat and capable of showing the fine colors of the national flag and remain so forever, said Cheng Chang, another leading member of the developer team.
The 12-gram national flag represents cutting-edge technology, they said.
How to preserve its original color and shape are the two most crucial questions in designing a national flag that must survive more than 380,000 kilometers away from Earth, under extreme temperatures and radiation during its journey, Wang Ya’nan told the Global Times.
To get a sense of how difficult the task it is, five of the six flags (except for the one Apollo 11 placed on the moon) brought to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s during six US crewed moon landings, have been bleached white due to decades-long solar radiation, although they are reportedly still standing and casting shadows.
Many reports say the Apollo 11 flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during lift-off.
The Soviet Union was the first country to imprint its national symbol on the moon, with a football-sized metal ball, carved with its national flag, full of explosives, smashing to the lunar ground in the Luna 2 mission in 1959.
Compared to such a method, China has a more advanced approach, which also greatly increased the complexity of the design, Wang noted.
The Chinese flag that Chang’e-5 displayed officially became the first and only fabric national flag that has ever been placed on the moon in the 21st century, which reminds many of the classic footage of an American national flag planted by Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 lunar mission more than five decades ago, observers said.
And they hailed that as the fresh and new icon of human’s lunar exploration, the Chinese national flag would inspire today’s mankind, just as Apollo 11 did, encourage and celebrate generations to make an endeavor to space.
Displaying a national flag on a celestial body represents the comprehensive strength and technological advancement of the country, Song Zhongping, an aerospace expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times.
“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the US astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Song recalled. “But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of the achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.”
Some readers have left comments under images and video of the Chang’e-5 landing published on the Global Times twitter account in recent days, saying they would not be convinced and acknowledge China’s achievements until the lander takes an actual photo of the American flag planted by the previous Apollo mission.
“Is it an original video, or a TikTok post taken in the Gobi desert,” one Twitter user wrote. “Where is the lunar dust while landing,” another asked.
The landing was closely followed by space agencies from all over the world, and the European Space Agency, Russia’s Roscosmos and NASA scientists have extended their congratulations.
Pang Zhihao, a senior space expert based in Beijing, said “the lander vehicle of Chang’e-5 was designed to turn off its engine about two meters above the surface to deliberately avoid blowing dirt.”
And for the sake of innovation, the lander touched down on an unvisited region, which explains why there were no US craft nearby, Pang said.
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