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Monday, May 27, 2024

China unveils its Moon plans

An upcoming 2024 mission will attempt to collect material from the far side of the lunar surface

China’s space agency has published details about its next journey to the Moon, announcing plans to launch the expedition sometime next year. Dubbed Chang’e-6, the mission would mark Beijing’s second attempt to obtain physical samples from the Earth’s natural satellite.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) took to social media on Friday to preview the mission, saying the project was going “as planned” and that the launch would take place in 2024.

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“The pre-selected landing area for the Chang’e-6 mission is located in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the Moon, with a view to discovering and collecting lunar samples from different regions and ages to enhance human understanding of the moon,” the agency said.

The CNSA added that the spacecraft – named after the Chinese moon goddess, Chang’e – would carry “payloads and satellite projects from four countries,” including advanced sensors developed by France, Italy, Pakistan and the European Union’s space agency, ESA.

To facilitate contact between the Chang’e and its operators back on Earth, China’s newly developed Queqiao-2 relay communication satellite will also contribute to the mission. That project is set to be completed by the first half of 2024, the space agency said.

The Chinese spacecraft will aim to gather up to 2 kilograms of material from the lunar surface, which researchers will analyze for evidence of water ice and other compounds. China’s 2020 Chang’e-5 mission marked its first successful attempt to bring home samples from the Moon, putting Beijing among a small group of nations to do so, alongside the US and the former Soviet Union.

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The latest CNSA announcement follows a string of Moon missions launched or completed by several countries in recent months, with India’s space agency making its first voyage to the surface in August. Moscow’s Luna-25 mission attempted a landing of its own around the same time, but ran into technical issues that resulted in failure. Nonetheless, Roscosmos said the landing attempt yielded valuable data for researchers, voicing hopes for “the future missions of Luna-26, 27, and 28.”

Japan, meanwhile, launched its ‘Moon sniper’ mission earlier this month, hoping to deploy a probe on the celestial body by next year and achieve a “pinpoint landing” within just 100 meters of its target site

Following Chang’e-6, China says it plans two other Chang’e missions, which will seek to send a robotic lander to the Moon’s south pole, and ultimately construct a research station in the area.