China Launches Lunar Sample Return Precursor Mission

4M payload (Credit: LuxSpace)
4M payload (Credit: LuxSpace)

China has launched a spacecraft to the moon designed to pave the way for a future lunar sample return mission.

The spacecraft, launched today aboard a Long March 3C rocket, will circle the moon and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere in a test of its navigation system and heat shield. It is a precursor for the Chang’e-5 sample return mission set to launch around 2017.

The Long March 3C upper stage, which will also loop around the moon, is carrying LuxSpace’s M4 payload. The payload includes an amateur radio beacon and a radiation sensor.

“This is the first ever privately funded mission to the moon and it happens 45 years after the first landing on the moon,” saide Jochen Harms, managing director of LuxSpace.

M4 stands for Manfred Memorial Moon Mission. The mission honors Manfred Fuchs, the founder of  LuxSpace’s parent company OHB, who died 0n April 26, 2014.