China’s next moon missions get green light

The Chinese government has officially approved three robotic missions to the moon, which will lay the foundation for a permanent lunar base.

The Chang’e missions in development are progressing well, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Sept. 10, and the next spacecraft, Chang’e-6, is almost ready.

China has made a number of breakthroughs in lunar exploration since launching its robotic lunar program in 2004. In successive missions, the country successfully launched first a pair of orbiters, then a lander and a rover; made the only landing on the far side of the moon to date; and most recently undertook a challenging sample recovery mission.

On the subject: Chinese rover Yutu 2 discovered a cubic “mysterious hut” on the far side of the moon

Liu Jizhong, director of the CNSA’s Center for Lunar Exploration and Space Programs, told CCTV. (will open in a new tab)that the main purpose of these missions is to lay the foundation for a lunar research station.

“There are a lot of technological problems that need to be solved,” Liu said. “However, with the foundation we have built and a great team, I believe we will succeed.”

The first of the new missions will be Chang’e 6, which was originally designed as a backup for the 2020 Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission. Chang’e 5 was a success, so the spacecraft is being repurposed for the first ever attempt to collect samples from the far side of the moon. CNSA did not provide a timetable for the mission, despite the advanced stage of spacecraft development.

Chang’e 7 will then target the south pole of the moon. The mission will consist of an orbiter, a lander, a rover, a relay satellite, and a small detector that can jump into craters in search of water.

Chang’e 8 will be launched later this decade and is designed to test 3D printing technologies and use local resources.

China is planning a project called the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) in cooperation with Russia for the 2030s and is looking for partners to join this endeavor.

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