China Lands On Far Side Of The Moon In Hopes Of Digging Up Solar System Secrets

hero chang e 6 mission
China reported that its Chang’e 6 spacecraft landed on the far side of the Moon over the weekend. The spacecraft was reported to touch down in the South Pole-Aitken Basin, where it aims to collect precious rock and soil from the region.

If successful, the Chang’e 6 spacecraft will be the first ever to collect rock and soil from this region of the lunar surface. Experts say the landing is tricky, because communication with any spacecraft on the far side of the Moon is very difficult. So far, China is the only country that has been successful in landing on the far side of the Moon, with the first landing occurring in 2019 with Chang’e 4.

Chang’e 6 comprises an orbiter, a returner, a lander, and an ascender. Following its launch on May 3, the spacecraft has underwent various stages, such as Earth-moon transfer, near-moon braking, lunar orbiting, and landing descent. According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA) the lander-ascender combination separated from the orbiter-returner combination on May 30. The lander-ascender began its power descent at 6:09am (Beijing Time) on June 2, followed by the landing at 6:23am (Beijing Time).

chang e 6 spacecraft illustration

CSNA added that, during the descent, an autonomous visual obstacle avoidance system was used to automatically detect obstacles with the aid of a visible light camera. The lander hovered above the lunar surface at about 100m (328ft), and then used a laser 3D scanner before it began a slow vertical descent. The Chinese state media declared the event to be an “historic moment”.

The lander is expected to spend about 3 days gathering materials, which the CSNA remarked would involve “many engineering innovations, high risks and great difficulty”.

Professor John Pernet-Fisher, a lunar geology specialist at the University of Manchester, remarked, “Everyone is excited that we might get a look at these rocks no-one has ever seen before.”

Pernet-Fisher added that the mission hopes to collect about 2kg (4.4lb) of material. Once that part of the mission is complete, the probe may gather material that came from deep inside the lunar mantle, or the inner core of the Moon, which may hold valuable secrets of the Solar System.

If the Chang’e 6 mission proves successful, a special return capsule will return to Earth with all the collected rock and soil. The 2020 Chang’e 5 mission was able to bring back 1.7kg of material collected from an area called Oceanus Procellarum on the Moon’s near side.