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China's Chang'e 6 Mission Aims to Make History with Far Side Moon Samples

Chang'e-6 lunar probe
Chang'e-6 lunar probe and the Long March-5 Y8 carrier rocket (Credit: Huang Guochang/Xinhua)

China is set to make space history with the launch of its Chang'e 6 mission, aiming to return samples from the moon's far side for the first time.

A 57-meter-tall Long March 5 rocket launched from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center at 5:30 a.m. Eastern (0930 UTC) on May 3, successfully delivering the approximately 8,200-kilogram Chang'e-6 mission into orbit. The mission builds on the success of Chang'e 5, which collected lunar samples from the moon's near side in 2020.

The Chang'e 6 mission brings numerous technical challenges to the forefront of lunar exploration, particularly since it's the first mission to attempt collecting samples from the far side of the moon.

  1. Communication Relay: The far side of the moon is perpetually out of direct radio contact with Earth. To overcome this, Chang'e 6 will rely on the Queqiao relay satellite, which was launched in 2018 specifically to provide communication for far-side missions. This satellite acts as a bridge, relaying data between the lander on the moon and mission control on Earth.

  2. Landing Precision: The far side has a rougher terrain compared to the near side, making the choice of a landing site crucial. The lander must navigate its way to a safe landing area, guided only by pre-mission orbital data and relay satellite information.

  3. Sample Collection and Preservation: The mission needs to ensure that collected samples are preserved well for the journey back to Earth. This requires a meticulous design of the sampling instruments to prevent contamination and ensure the samples are preserved in a pristine state.

  4. Return Journey: Unlike Chang'e 5, which could rely on Earth-based navigation aids, Chang'e 6's return journey involves navigating without direct radio guidance. The orbiter must autonomously re-establish its trajectory to safely return the samples to Earth.

  5. Robust Automation: The entire process involves highly autonomous operations due to the delays and communication constraints. Every component, from the lander to the return vehicle, needs to work independently and in perfect synchronization.

The samples gathered are expected to yield insights into the moon's composition and history, offering a glimpse into our solar system's formation. If successful, Chang'e 6 will join a series of missions that highlight China's rapid advancements in space technology and its ambition to be a key player in the new era of space exploration.

You can watch the launch here:

Curious about the cosmos? Explore the latest space exploration news and insights right here!

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