Tuesday, June 04, 2024

How China's Chang'e-6 Science Mission Returns Far Side Moon Samples to Earth

How China's Chang'e-6 Science Mission Returns Far Side Moon Samples to Earth

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released an animation explaining Chang'e-6's return to Earth, after the lunar probe collected the first soil samples from the Moon's far side south pole—an unprecedented feat in human lunar exploration history. 

The Chang'e-6 probe, comprising an orbiter, a lander, an ascender and a returner, was launched on May 3, 2024. The lander-ascender combination, separated from the orbiter-returner combination on May 30, touched down at the designated landing area in the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin on June 2.

The SPA basin (43°±2° south latitude, 154°±4° west longitude) is a large impact crater on the far side of the Moon. At roughly 2,500 km (1,600 mi) in diameter and between 6.2 and 8.2 km (3.9–5.1 mi) deep, it is the largest, oldest, and deepest basin recognized on the Moon.

The Chang'e-6 lander finished its intelligent and rapid sampling work, and the samples were stowed in a container inside the ascender of the probe as planned.

After the sampling was completed, a Chinese national flag carried by the lander was unfurled for the first time on the far side of the Moon. The lander-ascender combination also took a "selfie" with the Moon.

After that, the combination separated, with the lander staying on the lunar surface, whereas the ascender lifted off from lunar surface on Tuesday morning, carrying samples collected from the Moon's far side.

A 3,000-newton engine, after working for about six minutes, pushed the ascender to the preset lunar orbit with a perigee of about 15 kilometers and an apogee of about 180 kilometers, where the ascender is expected to carry out unmanned rendezvous and docking with the orbiter-returner combination within around 21 seconds. The samples will be transferred to the returner.

After the samples are transferred to the returner, the orbiter-returner combination will separate from the ascender, and then orbit the moon while waiting for the window to enter the Moon-Earth transfer orbit. After orbiting the moon for around 14 days, the orbiter-returner combination will enter the Moon-Earth transfer orbit.

After one to three corrections in about five days, the combination will reach a position around 5,000 kilometers above the Earth, where the returner will separate from the orbiter and start the phase of re-entering the atmosphere and returning to Earth. It will touchdown at a planned landing area at Siziwang Banner in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. This will mark the end of the Chang'e-6's 53-day journey of flying to the moon and back.

Video Credit: China Central Television (CCTV) Video News Agency

Duration: 2 minutes

Release Date: June 4, 2024

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