China to launch world first sample return mission from Moon’s far side

China to launch world first sample return mission from Moon’s far side

China is planning to collect the first ever samples from the far side of the Moon with its Chang’e 6 mission in 2024.

The mission is expected to be launched in May 2024 on a Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang in China’s Hainan province.

Wu Yanhua, chief designer of China’s Deep Space Exploration Major Project, said the Chang’e-6 probe to be launched in 2024 would retrieve lunar samples.

Speaking at a deep-space exploration conference on 25 April in Hefei city, he said the country then planned to launch the mission’s successors Chang’e-7 around 2026 for lunar south pole resource exploration, and Chang’e-8 around 2028 to construct the international lunar research station’s basic model, according to state media CGTN.

As part of the Chang’e-6 mission, a lunar probe is expected to collect up to two kg of materials from the Moon’s soil in its far side using a scoop and a drill.

The lunar far side is its hemisphere that always faces away from the Earth due to synchronous rotation in its orbit.

Compared to the near side, this side, also known as the “dark side” has a rugged terrain with a number of impact craters.

The “dark side” however does receive sunlight and the ”dark” refers to the unknown and less studied nature of this side of the Moon by astronomers.

This side of the Moon also contains several flat areas known as “seas”, including the Apollo basin that lies within the vast South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.

This is a colossal impact crater about 2,500km (1,550 miles) in diametre that covers nearly a quarter of the lunar far side.

Studying the ancient impact craters on this side, including those in the SPA basin, are expected to reveal important clues about the formation and geological history of the Moon as well as the formation of the Solar System.

Like its predecessors, the lunar mission is named after the Chinese Moon goddess Chang’e.

Both the Chang’e 5 and 4 missions have offered interesting insights about the Moon and its composition.

The Chang’e 5 mission was launched on 23 November 2020 and landed on the lunar surface on 1 December 2020. It collected about 2g of Moon dust and returned to Earth on 16 December that year.

The samples have yielded several fresh insights about the origin and history of the Moon.

For instance, basalt rock samples brought back from the lunar surface by the mission dated back approximately two billion years, suggesting that volcanic activity was taking place on the Moon more recently than previously assumed.

Its predecessor, the Chang’e-4 lunar probe touched down on the Moon in early January 2019 after it was launched in late December the previous year.

The mission’s Chang’e-4 lander and the Yutu-2 rover were the first human objects landed on the far side of the moon, and have proven successful in investigating the structure of the Moon’s surface layers.

In 2019, Chang’e 4 identified what seem to be mantle rocks on the surface, and gleaned more insights on lunar soil.

The missions have helped determine the stability and strength of the Moon’s soil foundation that could potentially help develop lunar bases in the future.

Chang’e 6 to be launched in May 2024 is expected to take 53 days to return module touchdown.

This sample-return mission is expected to be even more challenging and China plans to first send out a satellite named Queqiao 2 earlier in May so that it would relay communications between Chang’e 6 and teams on Earth.