China’s Chang’e 6 spacecraft begins sampling on far side of the moon


Illustration of the Chang’e-6 lander on the lunar surface

cnsa.gov.cn

China’s Chang’e 6 spacecraft has successfully landed on the moon’s far side and started taking samples of lunar rock from the region for the first time.

After orbiting the moon for three weeks, the craft touched down on 2 June at 0623 Beijing time, landing in a comparatively flat region in the Apollo crater, which sits within the South Pole-Aitken impact basin.

The far side of the moon has no direct communications link with Earth, so the landing procedure was largely autonomous, although engineers could still monitor the situation and send instructions using the Queqiao-2 relay satellite, which launched in March this year and is currently in lunar orbit.

Image from the camera on the craft as it approached the landing site

cnsa.gov.cn

Once the lander and its attached ascent module had separated from the orbital part of the spacecraft, they began a controlled descent with their engines, using an obstacle avoidance system and camera to detect boulders and rocks and select a smooth landing area. At around 100 metres above the lunar surface, a laser scanner selected a final site before the engines switched off and the vehicle made a cushioned touchdown.

The lander is now in the process of collecting samples, using a robotic scoop to gather surface material and a drill to extract rock from around 2 metres underground. According to the China National Space Administration, this process will take 14 hours, spread over two days.

Once the samples have been collected, they will be transferred to the ascent vehicle, which will blast through the moon’s exosphere to meet with and transfer the samples to the orbiter module. The orbiter will then make its way back to Earth and release a re-entry capsule containing the samples on 25 June so it can land at the Siziwang Banner site in Inner Mongolia.

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