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China set to launch Chang’e-6 robotic spacecraft to ‘dark’ side of moon

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China is gearing up to launch a robotic spacecraft on a mission to bring back samples from the dark side of the moon. This mission is prelude to three challenging missions aimed at achieving a Chinese crewed landing and establishing a base on the lunar South pole. And it will also be the world’s first attempt at collecting samples from the other side of the moon.

Since the inaugural Chang’s mission in 2007, named after the legendary Chinese moon goddess, China has made substantial strides in its lunar exploration efforts, narrowing the technological divide with the United States and Russia.

In 2020, China successfully collected samples from the near side of the moon, achieving the first sample retrieval in over 40 years. This milestone affirmed its capability to safely return an unmanned spacecraft to Earth from the lunar surface.

This week, China intends to dispatch Chang’e-6 to the far side of the moon, utilising the backup spacecraft from the 2020 mission, with the objective of collecting soil and rocks. During its 53-day mission, Chang’e-6 will rely on a relay satellite orbiting the moon for communication with the earth. Additionally, the mission involves a unique ascent from the moon’s “hidden” side during the return journey, according to a report in The Times of India (TOI).

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) has expressed concern about Beijing’s intentions regarding the polar regions. Bill Nelson, administrator of Nasa, has issued several warnings regarding China potentially claiming ownership of water resources in these areas. In response, Beijing stated that it is committed to collaborating with all nations to build a “shared” future.

China will transport payloads from France, Italy, Sweden, and Pakistan aboard Chang’e-6. Furthermore, payloads from Russia, Switzerland, and Thailand will be transported on Chang’e-7.

Chang’e 6 aims to land on the northeastern edge of the expansive South Pole-Aitken Basin, identified as the oldest known impact crater in the solar system.

In February this year, the southernmost landing to date was accomplished by IM-1, a joint venture involving the Nasa and the Texas-based private firm Intuitive Machines.

Scientists have dubbed the south pole the “golden belt” for lunar exploration.

The presence of polar ice holds promise for sustaining research bases over prolonged periods, reducing reliance on costly resources from the earth. India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission, launched in 2008, confirmed the existence of ice within polar craters.

The sample return mission of Chang’e-6 could yield valuable insights into the moon’s early development and the inner solar system.

First Published: Apr 29 2024 | 1:48 PM IST

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