Image credit: CGTN/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Chang’e-6 Moon sampling probe has performed a braking maneuver and is now in circumlunar orbit, reports the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Meanwhile, the ICUBE-Q mini-satellite has been released by Chang’e-6. ICUBE-Q was developed by the Intelligent Satellite Technology Center at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University and the Pakistan Institute of Space Technology.

Chang’e-6 entered a large elliptical lunar orbit of roughly 124 miles (200 kilometers) × 5,344 miles (8,600 kilometers), swinging around the Moon every 12 hours, from which it released the ICUBE-Q cubesat.

ICUBE-Q. Image credit: Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Also on duty, China’s Queqiao-2 relay satellite will assist in Chang’e-6 operations, such as adjusting the altitude and inclination of the spacecraft’s orbit around the Moon, and also be engaged in the separation of the orbiter-returner combination and the lander-ascender combination.

The lander-ascender combination is targeting a soft landing on the South Pole-Aitken Basin, performing — for the first time — sampling and return of lunar specimens from the far side of the Moon.

Image credit: CGTN/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Orbit control accuracy

The entire flight of Chang’e-6 is expected to last about 53 days, during which the spacecraft will experience 11 flight stages, such as: launch, orbit insertion, lunar transfer, among others.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“At present, the reaction control of Chang’e-6 probe is stable, the orbit control accuracy is very high and the working condition is very good,” Peng Deyun, a member of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center told China Central Television (CCTV).

“We will continue to adjust the altitude and inclination of the orbit. It will carry out separation at the proper time and conduct a soft landing on the far side of the Moon,” Peng said. “Then, it will carry out scientific exploration and collect samples from the lunar surface. Following this, it will take off, execute a series of maneuvers, complete rendezvous and dock in the lunar orbit before finally returning to Earth.”

High scientific significance

According to Lu Yuntong, an engineer of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation:

“Globally, more than ten missions collecting and returning samples have been conducted from the near side of the Moon. However, there may exist even more ancient lunar soil on the far side. Thus, whatever samples we collect from the Moon’s far side hold high scientific significance.”

The huge SPA Basin is the result of an impact hit on the Moon over four billion years ago. Samples derived from that area may provide the earliest information about the Moon.

“Our spacecraft depends on solar illumination for power generation, and this illumination varies with latitude. For this mission, we have selected a landing site in a region with moderate latitude,” Lu told CCTV. “We chose the South Pole-Aitken Basin due to its adequate solar illumination and reliable communication signals, meeting the engineering standards.”

Go to this informative video on the Chang’e-6 braking at the Moon at:

Image credit: Xingguo Zeng, et al.

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