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Race to Space: China’s Chang’e 6 Outpaces U.S. in Lunar Exploration

Daniel Kim Views  

Xinhua News Agency reported that on June 2, China’s lunar probe Chang’e-6 successfully landed on the far side of the moon, aiming to collect samples.

Citing the China National Space Administration (CNSA), Xinhua stated that Chang’e-6 touched down at its target location in the South Pole-Aitken Basin in the morning. This mission marks the beginning of a groundbreaking endeavor to collect samples from the moon’s far side, an area often referred to as the “Toad Palace” in Chinese mythology.

CNSA also released video footage of Chang’e-6’s landing.

Launched on May 3, Chang’e-6 is made from four main components: an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a return module. Its mission is to collect soil and rock samples from the moon’s far side. After entering lunar orbit on the same day as its launch, the probe spent approximately 30 days performing various maneuvers, including trans-lunar injection, lunar orbit braking, and lunar flybys.

Xinhua emphasized that the successful landing is just the beginning. The lander will now proceed to deploy its solar wings and directional antenna, collecting samples for the next two days.

The mission plans to collect surface and subsurface samples using both drilling and surface collection methods, with multiple automated collection points to ensure diverse sample acquisition. Additionally, the mission will conduct on-site investigations and analyses of the lunar soil structure.

Chang’e-6 aims to collect approximately 4.4 lbs of samples and return to Earth by June 25.

While there have been ten previous sample collection missions on the moon, all of them were conducted on the near side. If successful, Chang’e-6 will achieve the first-ever sample collection from the far side of the moon.

On May 8, the CNSA announced that Chang’e-6 had completed its lunar orbit braking under the control of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

Xinhua highlighted that landing on the far side of the moon is highly challenging due to the high risk and limited time window. Before Chang’e-6, China’s Chang’e-4 made history in 2019 as the first mission to successfully land on the moon’s far side.

The successful landing and sample collection of Chang’e-6 signifies China’s continued pioneering efforts in lunar exploration. The South Pole-Aitken Basin presents a significant challenge, comparable to landing a small truck on a mountain peak, due to its 6.2-mile elevation difference.

This success comes amid intensified competition between the United States and China in lunar exploration.

Despite starting later than the U.S. and Russia, China has emerged as a leading nation in lunar exploration since the 2010s. With its ambitious goal of sending a crewed mission to the moon by 2030, China continues to push forward its lunar exploration program, which began in 2004 with the Chang’e project.

Following the launch of the robotics spacecraft Chang’e-1 in 2007, China achieved its first lunar landing with Chang’e-3 on the moon’s near side in 2013.

Chang’e-4 then made history with its far-side landing in January 2019, and Chang’e-5 returned with 4.4 lbs of lunar samples in 2020.

In parallel, the United States has announced plans to launch human spaceflight Artemis 2 in November, signaling the intensification of U.S.-China competition in lunar exploration.

If successful, NASA plans to follow up with Artemis 3, aiming to send two astronauts to the moon for a week-long mission by 2025 or 2026.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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