Far side scenery taken by Chang’e-6 lander/ascender.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

Excitement is mounting for the return of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

China’s on-going Chang’e-6 mission is nearing departure from lunar orbit, making a bee-line for the Earth and delivering a motherlode of Moon materials.

Late last week, more than 200 Chinese scientists from 31 domestic universities and research institutes gathered in Beijing at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics, participating in a “Chang’e-6 Landing Area Geological Background Seminar.”

Deployed mini-rover from Chang’e-6 lander/ascender captured the robotic explorer at work.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

In a posting from James Head, a leading lunar expert at Brown University: “This seminar/workshop was designed to highlight the geological setting of the sample return landing site in the Apollo basin, and the types of scientific problems that can potentially be addressed by analysis of the Chang’e-6 return samples, both themes designed to assist scientists across China in preparing proposals for analysis of the Chang’e-6 samples. 

Image credit: James Head

Step by step

Launched from south China’s Hainan Province on May 3, the Chang’e-6 multi-component craft made the first-ever gathering of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

The probe’s lander-ascender combination safely touched down in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on the Moon last Sunday. After completing its collection of lunar samples on Sunday and Monday, the probe’s ascender segment departed from the lunar surface with the precious cargo on Tuesday.

Locked and loaded…with lunar samples.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP


After re-uniting with the orbiter and completing the lunar sample transfer on Thursday, the returner segment will continue to orbit the Moon, awaiting the time to initiate its return journey back to the Earth.

Re-entry day

The returner’s capsule, toting its cache of lunar collectibles, will parachute into a pre-picked landing zone at Siziwang Banner in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

Chang’e-6 returner component delivers the lunar goods to Earth.
Imaage credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Release of returner capsule loaded with far side samples.
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Parachuting to Earth, the Chang’e-6 capsule toting its lunar collection.
Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab


That re-entry is projected to take place on June 25 (Beijing Time), according to informed sources. At capsule touchdown, the Chang’e-6 mission wraps up its 53-day journey of going to the Moon and back.

European ground stations are providing support to the Chang’e-6 mission, according to the European Space Agency (ESA). Shortly after the launch from China on May 3, ESA’s Kourou station in French Guiana tracked the spacecraft for several hours to confirm its orbit.

Around June 25, ESA will catch signals from the Chang’e-6 returner as it brings to Earth its grab and go Moon samples via ESA’s Maspalomas station, operated by the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aerospacial (INTA) in Gran Canaria, Spain.

The European Space Agency’s Maspalomas station is located on the campus of the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aerospacial (INTA), in the southern part of the Canary Islands’ Gran Canaria, at Montaña Blanca.
Image credit: ESA



International partnership

James Carpenter, lead for Moon and Mars Science for ESA’s Directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration, stressed that the Chang’e-6 samples could help broaden humanity’s understanding of the Moon’s formation.

“China has presented a very exciting plan for lunar exploration, after Chang’e-6, we have the Chang’e-7 mission and Chang’e-8. They’re talking about having humans on the surface of the Moon and an international lunar research station,” Carpenter said, speaking to China Media Group (CMG) from Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

“These are things that China has set out as elements of their plan. I think it’s a very exciting plan, I think the scientific outcomes that could come from this would be fantastic. And I think internationally we’re all interested to see how this progresses and where are the opportunities for international partnership,” Carpenter said.

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