Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

In China’s Collaborative Design and Simulation Hall of the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory, lunar spacecraft specialists are conducting collaborative demonstration and design of plans for the Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 Moon missions.

These lunar missions are to be carried out successively in the next 10 years.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

This fourth phase of lunar exploration has been detailed by Tang Yuhua, deputy chief designer of Chang’e-7 with the Deep Space Exploration Laboratory of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of China.

Far side sampling

In a China Central Television (CCTV) interview, Tang said that the Chang’e-4 mission has been completed and the Chang’e-6 and the Chang’e-7 are currently under development.

“The Chang’e-6, which will be launched around 2024, will sample the far side of the Moon and return. The Chang’e-7 will be launched around 2026 and land on the Moon’s South Pole to carry out resource exploration,” Tang told CCTV.

China’s Chang’e-7 is to launch a mini-scout that will overfly a shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole to look for possible traces of water or ice.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Tang added that the Chang’e-7 includes a lunar orbiter, a lander, a rover, a flying vehicle and a relay satellite. That flying vehicle will conduct the first “lunar flyby,” traveling to a shadowed crater at the Moon’s south pole to look for possible traces of water or ice.

 

Science research station

“The rover of the Chang’e-7 is slightly larger than that of the Chang’e-4 in scale. It is designed to carry different loads, and is of roughly the same structure. It’s more intelligent. The original rover had more ground intervention, and now the path planning will be more autonomous,” Tang said.

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

The rover, together with the orbiter, lander and other scientific instruments, will form the basic structure of the China’s south pole scientific research station with the Chang’e-8.

Moon relay services

China plans to launch the Queqiao-2 satellite in 2024 to provide relay communications services for its lunar missions.

Queqiao-2’s predecessor was launched on May 20, 2018 for the Chang’e-4 lunar mission, designed to function as a communications relay for the Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover now on the far side of the Moon.

“Yutu-2 rover is carrying out its patrol surveys on a rugged terrain at the far side of the Moon, and the entire mission is done through a relay satellite. This kind of mission mode can be a working mode applied in deep space exploration in the future,” said Tang.

Image of Moon’s far side surface.
Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

According to CCTV, as the designed life of China’s current relay satellite is set to expire, the country plans to launch the Queqiao-2 communications satellite which will serve as a public relay satellite platform for the phase-4 lunar probe missions.

Compared with Queqiao, the Queqiao-2 will be upgraded to a new level with improvements in its overall capabilities.

New imagery

China’s lunar rover Yutu-2, or the Jade Rabbit-2, has sent back new images captured from the far side of the Moon ahead of the Chinese Lunar Year of the Rabbit.

Consisting of a lander and the Yutu-2 rover, the Chang’e-4 lunar probe touched down on the Moon on January 3, 2019, marking the first-ever soft landing on the far side.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Four years on, the lunar rover Yutu-2 — named after the pet rabbit of the Chinese moon goddess Chang’e — has collected data on solar wind and cloddy soil research, gel-like rocks and craters on the Moon.

Extended life

“In order to map out the route for Yutu-2, we need to use its navigation camera to learn about the position of the rover before recovering and analyzing the terrain. The rover can climb 20-to-30-degree slopes. Since the soil on the Moon is relatively loose, we don’t want to risk it to walk through steep slopes for safety consideration so as to minimize the damage to Yutu-2,” said Li Chunlai, deputy chief designer of the third phase of China’s lunar exploration project in a CCTV interview.

The service life of the rover was to be only three months, but it has now worked for a record four years on the Moon. Currently, the wheeled robot is located around 2,625 feet (800 meters) away in the west-north direction of the Chang’e-4 landing site and reportedly in good condition together with the scientific payloads.

Go to this newly-released CCTV video at:

https://youtu.be/l4cqQN2XND8

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