Image credit: CGTN/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab


An international cadre of payload specialists aboard China’s outbound Chang’e-6 robotic Moon mission gathered last week in China’s Haikou City, the capital of Hainan Province.

The Chang’e-6 lunar probe departed last week from the Wenchang Space Launch Site and is set to collect lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Multiple international scientific payloads on China’s outgoing Moon mission include a radon measuring instrument from France’s national space agency, a passive laser retroreflector from Italy’s National Institute for Nuclear Physics, an analytical instrument for negative ions on the lunar surface from the European Space Agency, and the ICUBE-Q cube-satellite from Pakistan.

Global collaboration

“Our reflector is on the lander,” said Simone Dell’Agnello, a technologist at the National Institute for Nuclear Physics and the Frascati National Labs in Italy. “Remarkable atmosphere of sincere and friendly international collaboration here at the launch site/venue,” Dell’Agnello told Inside Outer Space.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Pierre-Yves Meslin, Detection of Outgassing RadoN (DORN) principal investigator for the French National Center for Scientific Research told China Central Television (CCTV): “It’s a series of first times for us. It’s the first time that China and France are collaborating in the field of deep space exploration. It’s also the first time that France will deploy a scientific instrument at the surface of the Moon,” Meslin said.

In addition, DORN represents the first time that radon will be measured at the surface of the Moon, Meslin added.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Cube-satellite, suspected mini-rover

Neil Melville-Kenney is a technical officer for the Negative Ions on the Lunar Surface (NILS) at the European Space Agency (ESA).

“The groundwork that we are laying here with this mission, I hope, will serve a firm basis, indeed, for them to decide to collaborate more in the future,” Melville-Kenney told CCTV.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Qamar ul Islam, a professor at the Department of Space Science, Institute of Space Technology in Pakistan, told CCTV that the ICUBE-Q cube-satellite involved students at universities and educational institutes. “It’s a big motivation and we had very good cooperation from the Chinese side during all this project right from the beginning.”

Believed to be hitching a ride to the Moon’s surface is a purported mini-rover, although not verified as yet by Chinese space officials. The rover-looking device was first-detected by China space watchers in a pre-launch photo of the Chang’e-6 stack of hardware.

Image credit: CNSA/China ‘N Asia Spaceflight

Reliability index

Compared to the Chang’e-5 mission, the weight of Chang’e-6 is heavier by about 220 pounds (100 kilograms), said Li Pingqi from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, pointing to the lunar missions booster, the Long March-5 rocket. 

“Going to a lunar transfer orbit with an increase of 100 kilograms is a considerable upgrade for our rocket,” said Li added. 

CCTV reported that, compared to the Chang’e-5 lunar lander mission, the Long March 5 rocket catering to the Chang’e-6 mission also has its reliability index up from 0.86 to 0.93.

Target zone

Chang’e-6 is slated to enter lunar orbit early this week, then nudge itself into a lower altitude above the Moon for lander release. Chang’e-6 will spend about 20 days adjusting its position in preparation for the attempted lunar landing. The target zone is within the South Pole-Aitken basin. 

Image credit: CGTN/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Meanwhile, at the ready are relay satellites to provide communication services to facilitate data transmission between Chang’e-6 and the Earth. China launched the Queqiao-2, or Magpie Bridge-2, relay craft on March 20.

The Chang’e-6 spacecraft, like its predecessor, the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission to the Moon’s nearside, is composed of an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

53 days

Within 48 hours after Chang’e-6 landing, the plan calls for its robotic arm to be extended, then scoop up rocks and soil from the lunar surface, as well as perform drilling duties to probe below the lunar topside.

If everything goes according to plan, up to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of lunar bits will be collected, stashed and packed in a vacuum-sealed metal container inside the ascender.

The ascender then rockets off the Moon and auto-docks with the Chang’e-6 orbiter circling the Moon. 

Following a roughly five-day journey from the Moon, a returner capsule, stuffed with lunar samples, is to parachute into a pre-determined site in Inner Mongolia.

The entire flight — from Earth launch to return sample capsule landing back on Earth — is expected to last about 53 days.


Leave a Reply