Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.


China Moon mission live: Chang’e 6 to lunar far side launches amid concerns of ‘space race’ with US

Mission will attempt to retrieve 2kg of Moon rocks from lunar far side

Vishwam Sankaran
Friday 03 May 2024 11:21 BST
Related video: China to launch Chang’e-6 lunar probe on May 3

China’s Chang’e 6 robotic mission to retrieve samples from the Moon’s far side launched on Friday, marking a milestone in the country’s ambitious plans to put boots on the lunar surface by 2030.

Chang’e 6 took off aboard a Long March 5 rocket from China’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Center off the southeastern coast of mainland China at 9.17am GMT.

As part of the 53-day mission, a robotic lander will touch down on an impact crater on the Moon’s far side and attempt to collect about 2kg of rocks to be transported back to Earth.

China’s steady progress in space exploration has raised concerns in Washington with Nasa chief Bill Nelson repeatedly warning of the US being in a modern “space race” with the Asian nation.

“China has made extraordinary strides, especially in the last 10 years, but they are very secretive,” Mr Nelson recently said.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space programme is military programme. And I think, in effect, we are in a race,” he added.


Chang’e 6 mission to help astronauts land on Moon

While Chang’e-6 aims to retrieve rocks from the Moon’s far side, the complex stages of the Chinese mission would lay the foundation for future astronauts to land on the lunar surface.

The mission would serve as a “robotic practice” for China’s future astronauts, says James Head, a professor emeritus at Brown University, who collaborated with chinese scientists leading the mission. China plans to send its astronauts to the moon in a future mission by 2030.

“Chang’e 6 aims to achieve breakthroughs in the design and control technology of the moon’s retrograde orbit, intelligent sampling, takeoff and ascent technologies, and automatic sample-return on the far side of the moon,” Ge Ping, deputy director of the Center of Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering for CNSA said.

The mission “goes through virtually every step” that will be required for Chinese astronauts to land on the moon, Dr Head told CNN.

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 11:21

Rocket carrying Chang’e 6 lifts off

The Long March 5 rocket carrying the Chinese Chang’e 6 mission to the Moon lifted off successfully from China’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Center.

Chang’e-6 aims to collect rock and dust samples from the Moon’s far side, making it the first such mission in history.

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 10:32

How complex is China's Chang'e 6 mission

While landing a probe on the Moon itself is complex, China hopes to retrieve rocks from the less studied lunar far side and transport them back to Earth for scientists to study.

Space experts are already applauding the level of complexity undertaken by the mission.

“The whole process is very complex and risky,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told Nature, adding however that samples retrieved from the lunar far side would be “very interesting scientifically.”

Since there is no direct line of sight with the lunar far side from the Earth, China had to launch a relay satellite “Queqiao-2” in March to facilitate communications between Chang’e 6 and ground stations.

“Chang’e 6 aims to achieve breakthroughs in the design and control technology of the moon’s retrograde orbit, intelligent sampling, takeoff and ascent technologies, and automatic sample-return on the far side of the moon,” Ge Ping, deputy director of the Center of Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering for CNSA told Chinese state television.

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 10:00

Chang'e 6 mission to carry international payloads to Moon

The Chinese spacecraft launching today carries an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner as well as four payloads developed through international cooperation.

The scientific payloads carried by the Chang’e-6 include a French radon gas detector, a Swedish ion analyser, an Italian laser corner reflector, as well as a small satellite from Pakistan.

Within 48 hours of making its soft landing on the Moon, a robotic arm from the lander will extend to scoop rocks and soil from the lunar surface.

The collected samples will be sealed in a container in the lander, which will ascend and take off from the moon and dock with the orbiter.

A returner will then carry the samples back to Earth, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 09:35

What makes Chang'e 6 landing site special

China’s Chang’e 6 mission would attempt to touch down on the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.

This region could be key to understanding what makes the Moon’s far side geologically different from the near side.

It could also reveal how massive objects have pelted the lunar surface over the years, and reveal insights about the history of the Moon.

The Moon’s south pole has become an increasingly fascinating destination for space-exploring countries ever since India’s space agency discovered water-ice here in 2009.

Last year, India successfully landed its Chandrayaan-3 rover to become the first to land a probe here.

Both Nasa and China hope to send humans to the lunar south pole by the end of this decade in what many are calling a new “space race.”

If pockets of water-ice exist here in sufficient quantities, it may help produce hydrogen for fuel and oxygen to breathe.

This may help set up mining bases on the Moon which could propel further exploration of space.

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 08:45

Mission could reveal secrets about Moon's history

Rocks brought back from the lunar far side could reveal clues about this less studied part of the Moon.

While the US and the Soviet Union both brought back lunar samples, these were all from the near side of the Moon which faces the Earth.

The far side is more challenging to explore as Earth-bound scientists cannot communicate directly using radio signals with spacecraft in this remote region.

So China launched a relay satellite in March to help with the Chang’e 6 mission.

Samples retrieved from the far side could provide insights into its geological differences.

For instance, this side has more craters and less evidence of volcanic activity.

Follow The Independent’s live blog for more updates on the Chang’e 6 mission

Vishwam Sankaran3 May 2024 08:25

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in