Artwork depicts Chang’e-6 now in Moon orbit.
Image credit: CNSA/CGTN/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s robotic Chang’e 6 lunar farside sample return mission is now in orbit around the Moon, ready to execute a landing attempt.

The multi-component spacecraft is currently awaiting optimum illumination conditions in the Apollo basin interior landing area on the farside, with a touchdown generally planned for early June.  

Prior to that next step, the now-circling lunar probe is spending some 20 days to find the best position for a soft landing at the Moon’s farside of the by the lander/ascender components.

Image credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

That pre-selected touchdown spot on the enigmatic farside of the Moon, is a huge impact basin called South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin. SPA basin occupies an immense area, roughly 1,550 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter.

Artwork of Chang’e-6 landing on Moon’s far side.
Image credit: CGTN/CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Projected 53-day mission

Within 48 hours after touchdown, a robotic arm will be extended to scoop rocks and soil from the lunar surface and a drill will bore into the lunar topside.

Those lunar collectibles will be placed within the ascender for departure from the Moon and docking with the orbiter/returner in lunar orbit.

After completing all tasks, the Chang’e-6 mission will start its homeward-bound leg. After roughly five days of flight, a returner capsule is to re-enter the atmosphere and land in the Siziwang Banner of north China’s Inner Mongolia.

Image credit: Xingguo Zeng, et al.

From launch on May 3 to the Moon and return to Earth of the capsule-contained Moon specimens adds up to a projected 53-day mission.

Landing zone

As the largest and oldest impact structure on the Moon, the SPA basin is among the highest priority sites for future lunar exploration and lunar sample return.

One of the candidate landing areas of Chang’E−6 mission is the “cryptomare” south of the Apollo basin, termed region 1.

That region is not only on the landing zone agenda for China’s Chang’E−6 mission.

A potential NASA lunar mission, Endurance, is designed to traverse the entire basin through the basin center, and also return samples from the area.

Image credit: Xing Wang , et al.

Samples collected by these missions from the central cryptomaria would be critical ground truth for assessing the early thermal history of the lunar farside, and their comparison with Apollo/Luna/Chang’E samples collected from the lunar nearside would also help to unravel the causes of the hemispherical asymmetry of mare deposits.

Go to this informative paper – “Lunar Farside South Pole-Aitken Basin Interior: Evidence for More Extensive Central Cryptomaria in the South Pole-Aitken Compositional Anomaly (SPACA)” — led by Xing Wang at the Key Laboratory of Lunar and Deep Space Exploration, National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, China at:

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