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Chinese spacecraft lands on moon’s far side in growing space rivalry with US

Why is it in the news?

  • The China National Space Administration (CNSA) recently announced that the Chang’e 6 sample return mission is on track to land on the surface of the Moon in the first half of 2024.

 More about the news:

  • The mission is the sixth in the Chang’e moon exploration programme, which is named after a Chinese moon goddess.
  • It is the second designed to bring back samples, following the Chang’e 5, which did so from the near side in 2020.

 Why has China sent its Chang’e-6 mission to the far side of the Moon?

  • The emerging global power aims to put a person on the moon before 2030, which would make it the second nation after the US to do so.
  • The US is planning to land astronauts on the moon again — for the first time in more than 50 years — though NASA pushed the target date back to 2026 earlier this year.
Ø  On 20th July, 1969, Neil Armstrong along with Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first human to step on the Moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission.

About Chang’e 6 Mission:

  • Chang’e-6 landed in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon, marking the first human sampling and return mission from that side.
  • Launch: It was launched by a Chinese Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre in Hainan 53 days ago.
  • Components: The mission includes an orbiter, returner, lander, and ascender.
  • The lander is equipped with various sensors like microwave, laser, and optical imaging to measure distance, speed, and identify obstacles.
  • Objective: Representing the first attempt to retrieve samples from the far side of the Moon, Chang’e 6 is set to bring back up to two kilograms 2 meters below the surface, then transfer to the ascent vehicle adopting a configuration similar to the successful Chang’e 5 mission.
  • Significance: China became the third country, following the United States and the Soviet Union, to retrieve samples from the moon and bring them back to Earth.
  • The probe is scheduled to complete sampling within two days. It has adopted two methods of moon sampling, which include:
  • Using a drill to collect subsurface samples
  • Grabbing samples on the surface with a robotic arm.
  • The mission aims to achieve breakthroughs in lunar retrograde orbit design and control technology.
  • This is the second successful mission to the far side, following China’s Chang’e-4 in 2019.
The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program has progressed through several key phases:

·       Orbital Missions: Chang’e 1 and 2 orbited the Moon in 2007 and 2010.

·       Landing and Roving: Chang’e 3 and 4 achieved soft landings and roving on the Moon in 2013 and 2019.

·       Sample Collection: Chang’e 5 returned lunar samples in 2020, while Chang’e 6 targets the far side.

·       Robotic Research Station: Planned for the Moon’s south pole to support future crewed missions by the 2030s.

China’s Other Space Plans:

  • It aims to have a permanent manned space station in service by around 2022.
  • Within the next decade, China plans to establish a robotic base station to conduct unmanned exploration in the south polar region of the moon.
  • It is to be developed through the Chang’e-6, 7 and 8 missions through the 2020s.

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