Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission has ended, successfully bringing to Earth its celestial bounty – the world’s first sample from the Moon’s far side — after a 53-day journey in space.

The Chang’e-6 probe was launched on May 3 with the return capsule of onboard lunar specimens parachuting into Siziwang Banner, north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on June 25. The return capsule landed in a pre-selected spot at 2:07 p.m. (Beijing Time) on Tuesday.

Coming in hot! Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Chang’e-6 is one of the most complex and challenging missions in China’s space exploration efforts to date, reports China Central Television (CCTV), consisting of an orbiter, a returner, a lander and an ascender.

Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Image credit: CNSA/CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Mission stages

Following its Earth departure, the mission underwent various stages: Earth-moon transfer, near-moon braking, lunar orbiting, separation of the lander-ascender combination, landing on the Moon within the South Pole-Aitken Basin, collected its cache of lunar specimens over a two day period, then rocketed its grab and stash bits and pieces off the surface into orbit around the Moon.

Chang’e-6 scooping operation on Moon’s far side.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

All the lunar collectibles were then transferred into the orbiter-returner craft that spent 13 days in lunar orbit, awaiting the right alignment of Moon and Earth for the return trek.

The ascender segment separated from the combination and later landed on the Moon under the guidance of the ground control team, noted CCTV, to avoid the discarded craft becoming a piece of space junk.

Lunar evolution

Following two moon-Earth transfer maneuvers and one orbital correction, the returner separated from the orbiter and delivered the samples to Earth. Post-landing, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) declared the mission a complete success.

Image taken by mini-rover of Change’-6 lander/ascender spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.
Image credit: CNSA

A key player in the Chang’e-6 mission was support provided by China’s Queqiao-2 relay satellite. The Queqiao-2 relay satellite was put into position shortly before the mission to aid communication with far side operations.

“The Chang’e-6 mission represents a significant milestone in the history of human lunar exploration, and it will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of lunar evolution,” said Yang Wei, a researcher at the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. “New samples will inevitably lead to new discoveries.”

Chinese scientists anticipate the returned samples will include 2.5 million-year-old volcanic rock and other material that scientists hope will answer questions about geographic differences between the Moon’s near and far sides.

Chang’e-6 lander/ascender image from the Moon’s far side.
Image credit: CNSA/CLEP

Beijing trajectory

Following the capsule’s touchdown, air and ground retrieving teams arrived at the landing site and carried out follow-up work, including returner checks, parachute-returner separation, and parachute retrieval. The team also put on a “coat” on the returner to prevent it from bumps and squeezing during its journey to Beijing. The capsule was then hoisted by crane for departure from the landing site.

Once the returner arrives in Beijing, the lunar samples are to be extracted from the returner for detailed analysis.

Less than four years ago, the Chang’e-5 mission brought to Earth 1.731 kilograms of lunar samples from the Moon’s near side. As of earlier this month, the Chang’e-5 lunar soil samples had been distributed to 114 scientific research teams, totaling 258 packs of samples that together weigh 77.7 grams.

Image credit: James Head

One step at a time

China is willing to continue to work with like-minded international partners to explore outer space, said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman on Tuesday.

Mao Ning made the remarks during a press conference in Beijing as the return capsule landed in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of China’s lunar exploration project,” Mao said. “From Chang’e-1 to Chang’e-6, China’s lunar exploration project has taken one step at a time and opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration.”

Mao added that China “is willing to continue to work with like-minded international partners to explore outer space, the common territory of mankind, to realize the common dream of people of all countries of reaching beyond the moon, and continue to strive for the peaceful use of outer space, a common cause of all mankind.”

Go to these videos that spotlight the landing and recovery of the Chang’e-6 return capsule at:

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