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"Xiaofei" - Chinese Unmanned Lunar Orbiter Returns Home Post Posted: Sat Nov 01, 2014 3:27 pm 
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China succeeded in the world's first mission to the Moon and back, becoming the third nation to do so after the former Soviet Union and the US on Saturday.

"Xiaofei", the test lunar orbiter landed in Siziwang Banner of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region early Saturday morning, says reports.

The last documented mission of this kind was taken up by the Soviet Union in the 1970s followed by US.

"Xiaofei" is to test technologies that will be used in the Chang'e-5 mission, scheduled for 2017 when an unmanned spacecraft will land on the moon, collect a soil sample and return to Earth.

"Xiaofei" landed almost 500 km away from Beijing and launched Friday last week.

The orbiter traversed 840,000 km on its eight-day mission that saw it round the far side of the Moon and take some incredible pictures of Earth and Moon together.

When the orbiter approached Earth at a velocity of about 11.2 km per second, the re-entry process began on Saturday around 6 a.m.

However, the high speed caused a hefty 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.

The craft was designed to "bounce" off the edge of the atmosphere to help it slow down before re-entering again.

According to Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer of Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Centre, the process has been compared to a stone skipping across water, and can shorten the "braking distance" for the orbiter.

Zhou said, "Really, this is like braking a car. The faster you drive, the longer the distance you need to bring the car to a complete stop."

As per the reports, the "bounce" was one of the biggest challenges of the mission as the craft must enter the atmosphere at a very precise angle. An error of 0.2 degrees would have rendered the mission a failure.

Vice director of China's State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, Wu Yanhua, said that the test mission has gathered a lot of experimental data and laid a solid foundation for future missions.

 
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