China’s latest lunar mission has got off to a solid start as the spacecraft Chang’e 5 successfully entered the moon’s orbit, overcoming a hurdle that has foiled several space expeditions in the past. The test for Chang’e 5 came on Saturday night, after it had been flying for 112 hours. At that point it was 400km (250 miles) from the moon’s surface and near its orbit. The spacecraft “braked” by firing up its main engine for 17 minutes to slow its velocity to a point where it could be captured by the moon’s gravity. According to a Saturday announcement from the China Lunar Exploration Programme, Chang’e 5 “smoothly entered the moon’s orbit” and “closed its engine without irregularities.” On Sunday evening it successfully performed another manoeuvre to adjust its orbit and get closer to the surface. China’s plan for moon research station gets closer with Chang’e-5 success The purpose of the mission is to collect samples from the moon, the first time China has attempted such a feat. If successful, China will be the first nation in over 40 years to bring back lunar samples. It will also be the third nation after the Soviet Union and the US to achieve such a feat. This crucial first step, known as orbit insertion, is notoriously difficult. If the braking is not done properly, the spacecraft may simply fly past the target or worse, lose control and crash. In 1999, the US launched the Mars Climate Observer crashed after faulty calculations – the result of a mix-up involving metric and imperial units – took it too close to the surface. In 2010, Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki failed to enter the orbit of Venus because the engines did not fire for long enough, and the probe ended up stuck in the sun’s orbit. Zhang Yuhua, deputy director of the mission, told China Central Television yesterday that the Chang’e 1 mission, launched in 2007, had already mastered the technique of orbit insertion. However, this time round the degree of accuracy required was higher, she said. This mission is by far the most complex in China’s history of lunar exploration. Previous missions – all named after China’s moon goddess Chang’e – have only performed one task, such as landing on the moon or sending a spacecraft to enter the moon’s orbit. Chang’e 5 essentially combines all these previous tasks. Moon may contain much more water than previously thought: scientists A lander will be released from Chang’e 5 that will drill and scoop lunar samples from the moon’s surface, placing them into a container aboard an ascent vehicle attached to the lander. Two days after landing, the ascent vehicle will take off and attempt to dock on an orbiter in lunar orbit. This orbiter will then take the lunar samples back to earth, a trip expected to take four and half days. The orbiter will then release a re-entry capsule, which will parachute down to a landing site somewhere in Inner Mongolia between December 15 and 17. “There are a lot of important and intensive actions that need to be completed within a week,” said Meng Zhanfeng, overall chief designer of Chang’e 5, told CCTV on Saturday.