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China's Chang'e 5 to attempt moon landing and sample collection Tuesday

Leaked images of mission timings suggest touchdown on the lunar surface is imminent.

An animation of the Chang'e 5 probe firing its engines to insert itself into lunar orbit.
China Lunar Exploration Project

China quietly launched its Chang'e 5 spacecraft to the moon last week. The probe has now entered lunar orbit, preparing to touch down on the moon's surface in on Tuesday. In the past few days, China has been preparing its probe to descend to the surface with a series of orbital maneuvers.

At approximately 4:48 a.m. PT on Saturday, the probe performed a 17-minute burn of its main engine to slow down enough to be captured by the moon's gravity, according to the China Lunar Exploration Project. At 12:40 p.m. PT on Sunday, the lander and its ascent vehicle separated from the module in orbit around the moon. 

The module will continue to zoom around the moon at approximately 125 miles above the surface, while the lander and ascent vehicle autonomously attempt to get to the lunar surface. They'll move within 10 miles before descent. According to social media images of the mission's timing, the touchdown will occur at approximately 7:15 a.m. PT on Tuesday. 

Upon touchdown, Chang'e 5 is scheduled to collect around 4.5 pounds of lunar soil from Mons Rumker, a volcanic region shaped like a pimple on the moon's face, before ascending back to orbit and transferring its spoils to the orbiter. It will spend almost 48 hours on the surface of the moon, drilling into the moon dirt and plucking samples to bring back to Earth.

Lunar samples were last returned by Soviet spacecraft in 1976.

Updated Nov. 30: Adds timing leaks