China approves Phase-4 moon mission with int'l lunar research station
Phase four of China's lunar exploration program has obtained state approval and is proceeding smoothly, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced on Saturday, following the country's announcement of the discovery of new mineral Changesite-(Y) on September 9.
The Phase-4 lunar mission, consisting of the Chang'e-6, -7, and -8, is to be carried out successively in 10 years with the aims of exploring the moon's South Pole region and building a basic structure for the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), said Liu Jizhong, director of Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center under the CNSA.
The Chang'e-6 will be sent to retrieve samples from the far side of the moon and return them to Earth.
"The production of the Chang'e-6 probe has almost been completed. To better understand the moon, given that the Chang'e-4 went to the far side of the moon for the first time, we, after discussions with engineers and scientists, decided to have the Chang'e-6 probe to retrieve samples from the far side of the moon and return them to Earth. So the samples will be much more valuable," Liu told China Media Group (CMG).
According to the CNSA, the exploration of the South Pole will be completed by Chang'e-6 and -7, while Chang'e-8 will feature key technologies for lunar surface tests and preliminary exploration for the construction of the ILRS.
Liu said the Chang'e-7 probe is under development.
"The purpose of our missions is to lay the foundation for building a lunar station, so there are a lot of technologies to be tackled and we need to explore the energy on the moon. Great challenges lay ahead of us. However, with our previous experiences and an excellent team, I believe we will succeed."
China's lunar probe missions
China launched four lunar missions between 2007 and 2019 under the country's lunar exploration program, known as the Chang'e Project after the Chinese moon goddess.
China's first lunar probe, the Chang'e-1, was launched in October 2007. It was a lunar-orbiting spacecraft that worked 200 kilometers above the moon. Gathering a huge amount of data, it marked the first step of China's ambitious three-step moon mission.
The Chang'e-2 probe, which was launched in 2010, traveled more than 100 million kilometers from Earth, setting a record for the longest flight by a Chinese spacecraft.
In 2013, the Chang'e-3 became China's first spacecraft to soft-land on the moon and the Yutu rover drove on the moon.
In 2018, the Chang'e-4 landed on the far side of the moon, the first spacecraft to do so.
The Chang'e-5 probe landed on Earth with 1,731 grams of samples from the moon in 2020, marking the completion of China's first attempt to retrieve and return samples from the moon.