In its continuing efforts to advance space exploration efforts, China has announced its plans for the next lunar probe by 2024 and will be carrying equipment developed by other countries.

A report from the state-run press arm, Xinhua News Agency, shares that the new lunar probe - named Chang'e 6 - will be carrying gear from France, Sweden, Russia, and Italy. Additionally, the program's chief designer Hu Hao adds that the upcoming lunar rover will be landing near the south pole of the Moon and will collect samples to be sent back to Earth.

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It will follow the widely successful Chang'e 5, the Asian giant's first space mission with a sample collection and return. The fifth lunar rover landed on the surface of the Moon on December 1 and collected lunar samples, returning to Earth on December 16 - marking the world's first lunar-sample return since the 1980s.

According to Hu Hao, Chang'e 6 will "collect lunar samples automatically for comprehensive analysis and research."

Chang'e 5 assembly, leaving CZ-5 rocket. (CG)
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

Chinese Chang'e Project

Formally known as the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, the project is named after Chang'e, the moon goddess in Chinese mythology. The robotic space exploration project traces its first flight to Chang'e 1: a lunar orbiter launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China on October 24, 2007. Orbiting the surface of the moon, Chang'e 1 relayed its first transmission on November 26, 2007. While it was originally set for a one-year mission, it was extended until it was taken out of lunar orbit on March 1, 2009.

Chang'e 1 and its sister orbiter, Chang'e 2 constituted the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program's first phase, which was limited to orbital missions. The next two Chang'e spacecraft make up the second phase, which is still ongoing. Chang'e 3 and 4 have soft-landing capabilities and both carried a lunar rover capable of surface explorations and observing physical and chemical conditions on the Moon.

For the third phase, Chang'e 5-T1 and Chang'e 5 were focused on the sample collection and return to earth - completed by Chang'e 5 when it brought back about 2 kilograms of soil from the Moon last December.

In a 2019 press conference prior to the launch of Chang'e 4, Chinese space exploration officials announced that the fourth phase of their project would include the first steps toward the development of a research station at the moon. This begins with Chang'e 6, which will also return samples from the lunar south pole and provide an assessment on the topography and substructure of its target landing site.

Growing Force in the Space Race

While the recent announcement on Chang'e highlights the cooperation between its secretive, state-run space program, and other countries such as France, Sweden, Russia, and Italy, no further details have been provided in the press conference.

Aside from its Chang'e Lunar Project now looking forward to Chang'e 6, China also has a number of active space exploration projects - including its Mars exploration project. The Tianwen-1 probe has recently arrived on the Marian orbit last February 24. As one of the heaviest spacecraft sent to Mars, the Tianwen-1 mission includes an orbiter, a deployable camera, a Mars lander, and the rover tasked with exploring the Red Planet. This rover has been recently named "Zhurong," named after the Chinese god of fire and war.


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