A Chinese heavy-lift Chang Zheng 5 launch vehicle with a Chang'e 5 return vehicle, which is planned to land on the Moon, collect samples of lunar soil, and return with them to Earth, was launched from the cosmodrome at Hainan, a Sputnik correspondent reported.
The Long March-5 rocket, nicknamed "Fat 5" because of its bulky shape, failed on a previous launch attempt, but has since performed without a glitch, including launching Chang'e 4. The launch took place between 4:30 a.m. Beijing time Tuesday (2030 GMT Monday).
The mission, named for the Chinese moon goddess Chang'e, is among China's boldest since it first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third nation to do so after the US and Russian Federation.
The United States, which now has plans to return astronauts to the moon by 2024, landed 12 astronauts there in its Apollo programme over six flights from 1969 to 1972, and brought back 382 kg (842 pounds) of rocks and soil. It would also be the first such mission since 1976.
Space.com has underlined that the 382 kg of moon rocks brought home by the Apollo astronauts between 1969 and 1972 are considerably older, providing a window in the deeper lunar past.
Upon entering the moon's orbit, the spacecraft is meant to deploy a pair of vehicles to the lunar surface: a lander and an ascender.
After entering the Moon's orbit, the spacecraft will fly around the giant mass before separating into two parts.
Once Chang'e 5 does make it to the moon, a robotic arm will then drill two meters and scoop out about two kilograms worth of lunar soil and rocks. The samples will be sealed into a container in the spacecraft. According to NASA, the ascender will then dock on the service capsule, at which point the samples will be transferred to the return capsule. After the samples are transferred to the returner, the ascender will separate from the orbiter-returner.
When the geometric relationship between Earth and the moon is suitable, the orbiter will carry the returner back to the planet.
The mission is "indeed challenging", but China has already landed twice on the moon with its Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 4 missions, and showed with a 2014 Chang'e 5 test mission that it can navigate back to Earth, re-enter and land a capsule, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
The whole flight will last more than 20 days.
The single Lunar day landing window is important, for example, as Chang'e-5 is not created to survive the Moon's frigid nights.
Named after legendary Chinese moon goddess Chang'e, China's current three-step lunar exploration programme, which began in 2004, includes orbiting and landing on the moon along with bringing back samples.
The aim of the programme is for China to acquire the basic technologies of unmanned lunar exploration with limited investment, Pei said.
Pei, who is also the director of the space administration's Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center, has said: "The biggest challenges... are the sampling work on the lunar surface, take-off from the lunar surface, rendezvous, and docking in the lunar orbit, as well as high-speed re-entry to Earth".
The mission will make China only the third nation to collect lunar samples, following the United States and the Soviet Union.
"China's system will be the most flexible and capable robotic sample return system yet".
"That is very young for the moon - most of our samples are 3.5 billion years old or more", Siegler said in an email.
The official Xinhua news agency on Tuesday hailed the Chang'e-5 launch as a sign of China's leadership in space.