A success for the launch of the Chinese Chang’e 6 mission to take Moon soil samples and bring them back to Earth

The Chang'e 6 mission's vehicles blasting off (Photo courtesy Xinhua/Guo Cheng)
The Chang’e 6 mission’s vehicles blasting off (Photo courtesy Xinhua/Guo Cheng)

A few hours ago, the Chang’e 6 mission was successfully launched. A Long March 5 rocket blasted off from the Wenchang space center and after about 36 minutes an orbiter and a lander separated from the rocket’s last stage to begin their journey to the Moon. The aim is to take samples of lunar soil on the far side of the Moon and bring them back to Earth.

The Chang’e 6 mission is a sort of evolution of the previous Chang’e 5, launched on November 23, 2020, which brought lunar samples back to Earth on December 16, 2020. The crucial difference is that in this new mission, the landing of a lander will take place in the South Pole-Aitken basin area, on the far side of the Moon. The choice is due to the fact that there are geological differences between the two faces of the Moon.

The possibility of analyzing soil samples can offer new information on the processes that generated the differences between the two Moon hemispheres. For this reason, the hope is that the samples will also include materials from the Moon mantle ejected by the impact that generated the South Pole-Aitken basin.

The lander and spacecraft that aim at bringing the samples back to Earth are derived from those of the Chang’e 5 mission. Some instruments aimed at conducting some environmental analyzes on the Moon are the result of collaboration with other nations: France, Italy, Sweden, and Pakistan.

The Chang’e 6 mission vehicles are now en route to the Moon for a mission that has an expected duration of approximately 53 days. Direct communications between the far side of the Moon and the Earth are impossible, therefore on March 20, 2024, China launched the Queqiao-2 satellite, which has some scientific instruments on board and will be used as a radio relay.

China is slowly unveiling its Moon ambitions, which are officially for scientific purposes. This mission aims to collect samples and carry out various types of measurements with its instruments and the expected duration is limited but future projects include some long-term ones, with humans sent to the Moon up to the construction of a stable Moonbase.

Already in recent years, there were announcements of collaboration between China and Russia, and recently others arrived which include other nations in a collaboration that is alternative to the Artemis program led by the USA. For this reason, the robotic exploration phase is important for China.

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