SPACE RACE II: China rolls out Long March 5 rocket for Chang’e 5 moon sample-return mission launch.

Chang’e 5 is scheduled to lift off on Nov. 24, according to a NASA description of the mission. (Official Chinese sources have said only that the launch will occur in “late November.”) The 18,100-lb. (8,200 kilograms) spacecraft, which apparently consists of four modules, will then make its way to the moon.

Two of the Chang’e 5 modules will remain in lunar orbit. The other two — a sample collector and an ascent vehicle — will touch down in the Mons Rumker area of the huge Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”), a vast volcanic plain that has been explored by a number of other moon missions, including NASA’s Apollo 12 in 1969.

If all goes according to plan, Chang’e 5’s sample collector will use a robotic arm and a drill to snag about 4.4 lbs. (2 kg) of moon dirt and rock, including material that will be sourced from up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) underground. The ascent vehicle will then loft this cache to lunar orbit, where it will dock with one of the orbiting modules and then be integrated into the other, which will haul the stuff back to Earth, according to the NASA description. The moon samples are scheduled to land in China in mid-December.

This is an ambitious and complex mission to carry out.