Chang’e 6 spacecraft is ready for a difficult voyage to the moon’s far side

China’s next robotic mission to the moon, known as Chang’e 6, is slated to launch later this year with the goal of returning samples from Earth’s satellite’s far side, according to the China National Space Administration. The administration also stated that in the first half of this year, a new relay satellite called Queqiao 2 is scheduled to be launched in a lunar orbit to aid communications between the Chang’e 6 probe and Earth. There will be four parts to the Chang’e 6 spacecraft: an orbiter, lander, ascender, and re-entry module.

 

If all goes as planned, the spacecraft will land in the South Pole-Aitken Basin of the moon to gather dust and rock samples, according to Hu Hao, a senior planner at the administration overseeing the operation. In the event that the mission is successful, samples from the moon’s far side will be taken for the first time. The administration has promised to provide the lander and orbiter of the mission with 10 kg of foreign equipment. Following multiple selection and discussion rounds, it was determined that a payload from Pakistan would be installed on the orbiter and that scientific equipment from France, Italy, and the European Space Agency would be carried by the Chang’e 6 lander, according to Hu.

 

Though none of them have collected samples from the moon’s far side, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China have all returned lunar materials to Earth thus far. The moon’s rotation is slowed by Earth’s tides to the point that the same side of the moon faces Earth at all times. The far side of the moon is the other side, most of which is never visible from Earth. Despite the fact that the far side has been extensively imaged by spacecraft—beginning with a Soviet probe in 1959—no probe had performed a soft landing there till China’s Chang’e 4 mission did so in January 2019 in the Von Karman crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

 

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