Wu Weiren, general designer of China’s lunar exploration program.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s chief designer of the country’s expansive Moon plans has detailed the next 10 to 15 years of lunar projects.

Wu Weiren said China has planned the fourth stage of its lunar exploration program, including Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7, and Chang’e-8.

Among them, Chang’e-6 is set to collect samples from the far side of the Moon and bring them back to Earth. If successful, it will be the first time for mankind to achieve such a mission, said Wu in a Central China Television (CCTV) interview.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects Chang’e-5 lunar sample return capsule.
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Far side samples

“Chang’e-5 retrieved 1,731 grams of lunar soil from the near side of the Moon. We hope Chang’e-6 will collect more samples from the far side, aiming to achieve a goal of 2,000 grams,” Wu said.

The Chang’e-6 will be tasked to pick up samples from the far side the Moon and ship them to the Earth.

“If it succeeds, it will be the first time that humans have accomplished a collection of soil samples from the far side of the Moon. We all know that the Chang’e-5 retrieved and came back with 1.7 kilograms of lunar soils. We hope that the Chang’e-6 will pick up even more than that amount from the far side of the Moon,” Wu said.

Artist’s view of International Lunar Research Station to be completed by 2035. Credit: CNSA/Roscosmos

Launch of the Chang’e-6 is currently expected around 2025, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

South pole surveying

Slated for launch around 2008, Chang’e-8 will form the basis of a scientific research station at the Moon’s south pole with Chang’e-7, said Wu said, also noting that the station will include a lunar orbiter, lander, rover, a flying vehicle, and multiple scientific instruments

Chang’e-7 is going to land on the lunar south pole and have a flyover to search for water within that area, places that never sees sunlight, Wu said.

Ice distribution and thickness after a complete 2 Gyr model run. (a, b) Maps from ±60° latitude to the poles in (a) the south and (b) the north. (c, d) Maps from ±80° latitude to the poles in (c) the south and (d) the north. (e, f) Ice deposits remaining after 4 Gyr of sublimation to space.
Credit: Andrew X. Wilcoski et al 2022 Planet. Sci. J. 3 99

Mega science project

“We hope to cooperate with other countries to build an international lunar scientific research station by 2035 and realize joint design, joint survey, scientific data sharing, and joint management of the station,” said Wu. He noted that Chinese researchers are developing a nuclear power system that will be the long-term energy supply for the research outpost.

China will possibly complete the establishment of a lunar research outpost based on two robotic exploration missions by 2028 and send Chinese astronauts to the moon around 2030, Wu said as reported by CCTV.

The outpost consists of landers, rovers, ascenders and in-orbit craft, and the ascenders could be reusable, Wu said.

Credit: CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We prepare to work with other countries to build the international lunar research station and appeal to them to join hands with us in conducting the designing and surveying and the subsequent scientific data sharing,” Wu noted. “In the meantime, we hope to jointly manage the station. We hope to finish building the international lunar research station by 2035 and we also hope it will grow to be a mega science project of our country,” he said.

China is studying the feasibility of building internet communications on the Moon, designed to integrate data relay, navigation, and remote sensing, Wu added.

Deep space plans

In the arena of small celestial bodies, Wu said China plans to have asteroid sampling in the next 10 to 15 years and is preparing to carry out a planetary defense mission that will have an overall plan for the detection, early warning, and deflecting of small celestial bodies posing potential threats to Earth.

China also plans to retrieve samples from Mars and carry out interplanetary exploration of Jupiter and Uranus, said Wu. Exploration of the sun and sending a probe to the edge of the solar system are also in contemplation.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“We will also develop a heavy-lift launch vehicle with a takeoff thrust of about 4,000 tons, to send astronauts to the Moon and Mars,” added Wu.

Earlier this week, Long Lehao, a chief designer of China’s Long March rockets, also noted that China could land three astronauts on the Moon – before 2030.

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