China Lands Sample Return Probe on the Far Side of the Moon

China Lands Sample Return Probe on the Far Side of the Moon

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission landed on the far side of the Moon this evening Eastern Daylight Time. China is the only country to land on the lunar farside, first with a lander/rover in 2020 and now with this mission that will return samples to Earth.

All the lunar samples we have today are from the near side of the Moon that always faces Earth.  Brought back by six Apollo astronaut crews and three Soviet robotic probes in the 1960s and 1970s, and China’s Chang’e-5 in 2020, they are a treasure trove for geologists trying to understand how the Moon and the early solar system formed.

Much less is known about the far side of the Moon that perpetually faces away from us. Until the Space Age, it had never been seen. Orbiting spacecraft, especially NASA’s high resolution Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, have revealed some of its secrets since then, but getting actual samples will be a scientific bonanza.

Launched on May 3 EDT, Chang’e-6 entered orbit around the Moon on May 8 and landed at 6:23 pm EDT today (6:23 am June 2 Beijing Time) according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.  The landing site is the Apollo Basin in the South Pole Aitken Basin, a region of strong scientific interest.

The landing coordinates are estimated to be 153.99 W, 41.64S.

The samples are expected to be collected in the next two days using a scoop and a drill. Xinhua did not say when they would get back to Earth. A mini-rover also is aboard the lander. China did not disclose it, but sharp-eyed observers spotted it in a photo.

Chang’e-6 carries four international payloads. A Pakistani cubesat, ICUBE, separated from Chang’e-6 on May 8 and is orbiting the Moon and returning images and other data. The other three are on the lander: Detection of Outgassing RadoN (DORN) from the French space agency CNES, a laser retroreflector (INRRI) from Italy, and Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface (NILS) from Sweden and the European Space Agency (ESA).

ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher tweeted a video from the China National Space Agency (CNSA) taken by Chang’e-6 as it landed.

Communicating with spacecraft on the farside of the Moon requires a relay satellite. China’s Chang’e-4 was the first probe to land on the farside and uses the Queqiao satellite to communicate back to Earth. An advanced version, Queqiao-2, was launched to support Chang’e-6.


This article has been updated.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.