China to launch 1st-ever sample return mission to moon

China will attempt to collect the first samples from the far side of the moon next year with its Chang’e 6 mission. The complex, four-spacecraft mission will launch on a Long March 5 rocket from Wenchang in May 2024, according to Wu Yanhua, chief designer of China’s Deep Space Exploration Major Project, speaking at a deep-space exploration conference on April 25 in the Chinese city of Hefei.

The 53-day-long Chang’e 6 mission will seek to touch down and collect up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar materials using a scoop and a drill. 

 to be around 43 degrees south latitude and 154 degrees west longitude on the far side of the moon, corresponding to a southern area of a huge impact crater known as Apollo basin.

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Speaking at a deep-space exploration conference on 25 April in Hefei city, he said the country then planned to launch the mission’s successors Chang’e-7 around 2026 for lunar south pole resource exploration, and Chang’e-8 around 2028 to construct the international lunar research station’s basic model, according to state media CGTN.

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This side of the Moon also contains several flat areas known as “seas”, including the Apollo basin that lies within the vast South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.


Apollo basin lies within the vast South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin, a colossal, ancient impact crater roughly 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter that covers almost a quarter of the moon’s far side. The SPA basin impact is widely thought to have excavated material from below the lunar crust and could therefore hold vital clues about the history of the moon and the development of the solar system.

The lunar far side is its hemisphere that always faces away from the Earth due to synchronous rotation in its orbit. Compared to the near side, this side, also known as the “dark side” has a rugged terrain with a number of impact craters.

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China conducted its first lunar sample return in 2020 with the Chang’e 5 mission, which also marked the first time in more than 40 years that samples had been collected from the moon. Chang’e 6 will be even more challenging. As the far side of the moon never faces Earth and cannot be seen directly, China will first send out a satellite named Queqiao 2 to relay communications between Chang’e 6 and teams back on Earth.

Studying the ancient impact craters on this side, including those in the SPA basin, are expected to reveal important clues about the formation and geological history of the Moon as well as the formation of the Solar System.

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The Chang’e 5 mission was launched on 23 November 2020 and landed on the lunar surface on 1 December 2020. It collected about 2g of Moon dust and returned to Earth on 16 December that year.

About the author

Naqvi Syed

Naqvi Syed is is a freelance journalist who has contributed to several publications, including Spacepsychiatrist. He tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. He works with Spacepsychiatrist from a long time.


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