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China’s Chang’e 6 Moon Mission adds 4 international payloads

China’s Chang’e 6 Moon Mission adds 4 international payloads

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Artist's conception of the Chinese Chang'e 5 mission, which was completed in 2020.

Artist’s conception of the Chinese Chang’e 5 mission, which was completed in 2020.
Figure: CNSA

Two years ago, China’s Chang’e 5 mission made history by returning lunar samples to Earth for the first time in more than 40 years. The mission’s successor, Chang’e 6, is not only scheduled to bring back a second batch of samples from the far side of the moon — a feat never attempted before — it will also bring four payloads for the ride.

The Chang’e 6 mission is scheduled to launch in 2025 aboard a Long March 5 rocket from China’s Wenchang Cosmodrome on the coast. Unlike its predecessor, which landed on the near side of the moon, Chang’e 6 will fly to the south polar region of the moon on the far side (the side of the moon that never faces Earth) for its sampling duties.

In 2018, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) launched a call for international partners to hitchhike on the journey. From 20 proposals, the space agency selected four to be included in its Chang’e 6 mission, namely payloads from France, Italy, Sweden and Pakistan, the CNSA said in a press release.

The French space agency CNES will contribute the DORN (Detection of Outgassing Radon) instrument, which will measure radon concentrations on the moon by observing the gas escaping from the lunar surface. Radon, an inert gas, is possible evidence that the moon came from Earth.

Chang’e 6 will also carry a laser retroreflector, a device that reflects concentrated light, from Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics-Frascati National Labs. The device is designed to measure the distance between the earth and the moon.

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The negative ion instrument on the lunar surface instrument, also to be deployed by the Chang’e 6 lander, will measure solar winds reflected off the lunar surface as they reach the moon. This instrument is being developed by the Swedish Institute for Space Physics.

Also present is the CubeSat ICUBE-Q from Pakistan, which is intended to detect traces of water ice on the lunar surface.

Along with its payloads, Chang’e 6 is gearing up for an even more challenging mission than its predecessors. The lander targets the moon’s South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, a massive impact crater that may be one of the oldest on the moon. The lander will collect samples from the basin and place them in an ascent vehicle that will be launched into lunar orbit. The vehicle then docks with an orbiter, which places the samples in a capsule bound for Earth. If successful, the mission will be the first to bring back surface samples from the far side of the moon.

China is making progress with its space program, much of which is focused on building a base on the moon. The Chinese space agency already has plans for Chang’e 7 and 8, which will focus on testing the technologies needed to build a lunar scientific base.

It will be interesting to see how China’s plans stack up against NASA’s own Artemis program, which is also trying to establish a base for astronauts on the moon.

More: Chinese rocket stage is now a cloud of orbital debris after dissipating in space

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