Excerpt from csmonitor.com
A Chinese spacecraft service module has entered orbit around the moon, months after being used in the country’s landmark test flight that sent a prototype sample-return capsule on a flight around the moon and returned it to Earth.
The service module from China’s circumlunar test flight arrived in orbit around the moon this week, according to Chinese state media reports. The spacecraft is currently flying in an eight-hour orbit that carries it within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of the lunar surface at its closest point, and out to a range of 3,293 miles (5,300 km) at its highest point.
According to chief engineer Zhou Jianlian of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center the module will make its second and third braking in the early hours of today (Jan. 12) and tomorrow, Beijing time. Doing so will enable the module to enter a 127-minute orbit around the moon, Zhou said.
Earlier reports noted that a camera system is onboard the service module, designed to assist in identifying future landing spots for the Chang’e 5 mission that will return lunar samples back to Earth in the 2017 time frame.
China’s test lunar orbiter launched on Oct. 24, circling the moon during its eight-day mission. The service module ejected a return capsule on Nov. 1, with the capsule parachuting to Earth that same day.
After release of the capsule, the service module made its way to the Earth-Moon Lagrangian (L2) position, completing three circles around that point prior to heading for lunar orbit.
Chang’e 5 would be a robotic sample-return mission aimed at making a soft landing on the moon and then scooping up several pounds of lunar rocks and soil for the return trip to Earth.