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China’s Chang’e 6 mission heading to the moon: here’s what’s next for the 53-day expedition | Scientific news

The Chang’e 6 mission is on its way to the moon. China is working closely with friendly countries on the sample return mission. Here are the plans for the robotic spacecraft for the next 53 days of the expedition.

The Long March 5 with Chang’e 6 hurtling through the atmosphere. (Image credit: CNSA).

Essentials

  • The next major operation will be captured in lunar orbit.
  • The mission will help us better understand the formation and history of the moon.
  • The mission carries cargoes from countries friendly to China.

New Delhi: China successfully launched the Chang’e 6 sample return mission to the far side of the moon on a Long March 5 heavy-lift launch vehicle, the largest and most powerful launch vehicle in the Chinese fleet. This is the second time the China National Space Administration (CNSA) has attempted a sample return mission, following the successful Chang’e 5 mission in 2020.

The Long March 5 takes off with Chang’e 6 on board. (Image credit: CNSA).

The spacecraft is headed to the southern rim of the Apollo Crater, in the South Pole Aitken Basin, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system. The Chang’e 4 mission had landed in the Von Karman Crater, also in Aitken’s Antarctic Basin. The spacecraft successfully deployed its solar arrays after a nominal flight, performing a burn maneuver over the equator, before being injected into a translunar orbit.

What’s next for Chang’e 6?

The robotic spacecraft will fly to the moon and perform some trajectory correction maneuvers along the way. The next major combustion operation is a braking maneuver, which must be absorbed by the moon’s gravity. Otherwise, the spacecraft will fly past the moon. The mission profile is similar to the Chang’e 5 mission, with the key difference that the spacecraft is headed to the far side of the moon.

In lunar orbit, the Lander and Ascender will separate from the orbiter and Reentry capsule, both of which will remain in lunar orbit. The Lander-Ascender combination will then attempt a soft, controlled landing in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, then use a drill and a mechanical arm to extract two kilograms of material from a depth of two meters. The Ascender will then lift off and perform the first rocket flight on the far side of the moon.

The Ascender module then docks with the orbiter and transfers the material to the Reentry module. The Orbiter then discards the Ascender and returns to Earth with the reentry module. The return capsule will attempt to land at the Siziwang Banner landing site in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The mission will be supported by the Queqiao 2 relay satellite, which China launched earlier this year.

Wang Qiong, deputy chief designer of the Chang’e 6 mission, said: “During the Chang’e 5 mission, the probe worked on the near side, so we could monitor the working processes and send control signals to it at any time. But in the case of Chang’e 6, we will rely solely on the Queqiao 2 relay satellite to transmit data and signals. The satellite has limited coverage over the landing site, which will consequently limit our communications with the Chang’e 6 probe.”

Large crowds gathered to witness the historic launch. (Image credit: Yuan Chen/For chinadaily.com.cn).

International cooperation

China is working closely with international partners on this mission. The Chang’e 6 robotic spacecraft will carry scientific payloads from Europe, as well as Pakistan’s ICUBE-Q CubeSat, which will be deployed into lunar orbit and observe the moon’s surface using a pair of onboard cameras. ICUBE-Q is Pakistan’s first lunar mission and furthers Pakistan’s ambitions in lunar exploration.

Qamarul Islam of Pakistan’s Institute of Space Technology, which developed the satellite, appreciated China’s efforts to enable smaller countries to pursue space science. Pakistan’s Ambassador to China Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi said: “We all have a shared future.”

Neil Melville-Kenney, an ESA scientist working with CNSA on one of the payloads, said: “The nature of space exploration encourages us to think of our planet as one, and encourages us to think of humanity together. It is absolutely crucial for us to continue our young journey into the cosmos by working together.”