China is working on a new lunar rover for a 2026 mission to the south pole of the moon

China is working on a new rover that will begin exploring the moon’s south pole around 2026.

The Chang’e 7 mission is part of a recently approved new phase of Chinese lunar exploration that will target the south pole and far side of the moon. Chang’e 7 will consist of an orbiter, a lander, a rover and a small flying detector that can navigate into shadowed craters looking for traces of water ice. The mission will also be supported by a new communications relay satellite. (will open in a new tab).

The mission rover will be based on the about 310 pounds (140 kg) solar-powered Yutu and Yutu 2 rovers from the Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 moon landing missions, which landed in 2013 and 2019, respectively. But there will be differences.

Related: Latest news about China’s space program

China is working on a new lunar rover that will be more autonomous and slightly larger than its Yutu 2 robot, which has been exploring the far side of the moon since 2019. (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

“The Chang’e 7 rover is slightly larger than the Chang’e 4 rover. It is designed to carry various tools and has approximately the same structure,” said Chang’e-7 Deputy Chief Designer Tang Yuhua. This was reported in the Center for the study of the moon and space technology of China. The rover will also be more independent.

“He is more intelligent. The original rover interfered more from the ground, and path planning will now be more autonomous,” Tang said.

The rover will carry a panoramic camera and ground penetrating radar like the Yutu 2, but will have a magnetometer and a Raman spectrometer instead of the visible and infrared spectrometer and energetic neutral atom analyzer provided by Sweden for the Yutu 2 mission.

Chang’e 7 will also carry a second, smaller rover for the United Arab Emirates.

Before Chang’e 7, China will attempt to collect samples from the far side of the Moon, in the South Pole-Aitken basin, around the end of 2024 with its Chang’e 6 mission. The spacecraft was originally a backup of the 2020 Chang’e 5 mission, which collected samples from the near side of the Moon and brought them back to Earth.

After that, the launch of Chang’e 8 is scheduled for 2028 and is intended to test 3D printing technologies and use local resources. This mission is set to pave the way for a project called the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in the 2030s.

Initially, the ILRS will be robotic, but it is expected to be able to host astronauts for extended stays from around 2035. China and Russia are looking for partners to join this work.

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