Exploration, Geology, News, Space

The launch of Chang’e 6

The objective of Chang’e 6 mission is to collect the first samples from the far side of the Moon and bring them to Earth.

Source: Space News

A 57-meter-tall Long March 5 lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 5:30 p.m. (Local Time) May 3, carrying the roughly 8,200-kilogram Chang’e-6 into orbit.

If successful, samples delivered by the 53-day-long mission could change our understanding of the Earth and moon and the history of the early solar system.

Chang’e-6 consists of a stack of four spacecraft that will perform specific roles. Its orbiter will take the mission into lunar orbit. From there, a lander will separate and target a landing within Apollo crater on the far side of the moon. As the far side of the moon is never visible to Earth, due to our planet slowing the moon’s rotation and leaving it tidally locked, a communications relay satellite is required to provide communications between the ground and the lunar far side. For this, China launched Queqiao-2 in March into a specialized lunar orbit.

Once landed, the lander spacecraft will collect up to 2,000 grams of lunar samples with a drill, descending to a depth of up to two meters, and a scoop. These will be loaded into an ascent vehicle and launched back into lunar orbit for a carefully choreographed and challenging rendezvous and docking with the orbiter.

From here, the samples will be transferred to a reentry capsule. The ascender will be jettisoned and the orbiter will prepare for the return to Earth. The reentry capsule will be released just before reaching Earth and will first skip off the planet’s atmosphere. This will help it slow it down before a final, fiery plunge through the atmosphere and a landing in Inner Mongolia.

Chang'e 6 mission diagram
Chang’e 6 mission diagram. Click on the image to zoom it. Source: Space.com.

The mission is a repurposed backup to the 2020 Chang’e-5 sample return mission. That mission successfully collected the youngest samples so far from the near side of the moon. It also builds on the Chang’e-4 mission which put a lander and rover on the lunar far side in 2019.

Apollo lies within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, a gigantic, ancient impact basin on the lunar far side. This is thought to hold tantalizing clues as to a number of moon mysteries, making the added cost of complexity of a relay satellite worthwhile scientifically.

Map showing where Chang'e 6 will land.
The map of Moon’s dark side. Chang’e 6 will land inside the red rectangle. The image is from the same news source.

As well as the main goal of collecting samples, the Chang’e-6 lander carries a landing camera, a panoramic camera for imaging its surroundings and a ground-penetrating radar to provide insights below the lunar surface. It also carries a lunar mineral spectrometer to assess the composition of the surface. The spacecraft is expected to deploy a Chinese national flag, as done by the Chang’e-5 lander.

The mission also carries international scientific payloads from France, Sweden, Italy, and a Pakistani cubesat. The collaborations reflect Chinese efforts to boost its international cooperation in space exploration.

France is providing the Detection of Outgassing RadoN (DORN) instrument which will detect radon outgassing from the lunar crust. Sweden, with ESA support, will contribute the “Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface” (NILS) payload. An Italian passive laser retro-reflector will also be aboard. The 7-kg ICUBE-Q cubesat is a collaboration between Pakistan’s national space agency, SUPARCO, and China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Chang’e 7 and Chang’e 8 missions will be launched in 2026 and 2028 respectively.

About Pedro Ney Stroski

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