As the space race gets intense each passing day, space expeditions are also rapidly increasing. Recently, the Chang’e-5 mission, which was intended to orbit the moon and collect samples, is now deviating from the original plan.
Chang’e-5 lunar probe, a spacecraft from the China lunar sample return mission, has suddenly changed course and appears to be travelling back to the Moon.
After delivering Moon Rocks to Earth, Chang’e-5 returned to a Lagrange point with the equal but opposite gravitational pulls of Earth and Sun. However, following a six-month stay at the Lagrange point, the spacecraft appeared to have reversed its course and now, according to SpaceNews, will approach the moon on Thursday morning.
Several rational explanations for the move exist. But the orbiter is now the topic of wild speculation without any official notification or update from the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Centre.
According to SpaceNews, the most surprising aspect of the orbiter’s abrupt departure from its deep-space mission is that it is probably running out of fuel.
“I don’t think there will be many opportunities for the orbiter to perform more complex orbit manoeuvres with other bodies,” Chang’e-5 spacecraft system chief designer Jing Peng of the China Academy of Space Technology said at a conference in June, according to Space.com. “I think it will stay in [the Lagrange point] or the Earth-moon system.”
SpaceNews anticipated that the spacecraft might potentially use the lunar flyby to chart a new course towards the 49219 Kamo’oalewa, an asteroid that China hopes to study during an asteroid sample return mission in 2024.
But, given the absence of formal notification from Chinese authorities, perhaps we might have to wait and witness the orbiter’s next destination.