Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

China’s Chang’e 6: What became of China’s Chang’e 6 lunar lander?

China's Chang'e 6: What became of China's Chang'e 6 lunar lander

China’s Chang’e 6: The first samples from the moon’s far side have been successfully returned to Earth by China’s Chang’e 6 mission. However, what happened to the lander that gathered the lunar material?

On May 3, Chang’e 6 was released. Four spacecraft made up the mission: an orbiter, lander, ascent vehicle, and reentry capsule. The primary mission of the lander, which landed in the Apollo crater on June 1, was to drill and scoop special samples from the lunar far side and load them onto the ascender so they could be sent into lunar orbit.

On June 25, as scheduled, the samples finally made it to Earth and landed in Inner Mongolian grasslands.

Meanwhile, the Chang’e 6 lander remains on the lunar surface. It also carried payloads such as a panoramic imager and a miniature rover. The French space agency CNES, which donated a radon-outgassing-detection payload dubbed DORN to the project, recently provided insights into the lander’s fate.

According to an email from a CNES press attache, As scheduled, DORN was switched off shortly before Chang’e 6 departed from the lunar surface when the ground platform became inactive.

The lander sustained significant damage during the ascender’s blastoff, but it was still able to record video of the incident. As a result, all tasks were completed before liftoff, including the rover’s autonomous deployment and the lander’s photography. Among these was a different European device that discovered charged particles on the moon’s surface that had not been seen before.

If there had been any activity following the ascender’s liftoff, it would have ended by dusk over Apollo Crater. In contrast to the Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4 landers that are still in use on the near and far sides of the moon, respectively, Chang’e 6’s lander was devoid of the radioisotope heaters required for prolonged lunar activities, which necessitated enduring the bitterly cold lunar night. On June 11, night fell on Apollo Crater, and on June 26, the sun rose once more over the location.

Concurrently, the ascender, which transported the samples from the moon to the Chang’e 6 spacecraft that was waiting for them in lunar orbit, has also stopped functioning. The rocket probably deorbited into the moon after it docked with the orbiter and transferred the samples, however, China’s space authorities have not commented on the ascender’s fate.

Scott Tilley, a radio amateur, tracked signals from the ascender, and their disappearance indicated that it had been commanded to impact the moon.

China implemented the sample retrieval protocol with its Chang’e 5 mission, which successfully returned samples from the near side of the moon to Earth in late 2020.

On Wednesday, June 26, after everything else was finalized, the reentry capsule and the samples inside were shipped to Beijing. Shortly, the samples will be moved to newly constructed spaces for distribution, analysis, and storage in support of research.

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The far-side sample mission was made possible in part by the Queqiao 2 lunar relay satellite, which will carry on orbit with its science payloads in the interim. It will assist both the current Chang’e 4 mission and the future Chang’e 7 mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2026 and aims to reach the lunar south pole.

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