May 30, 2024

China will attempt another mission to the far side of the moon on Friday, the first of three planned over the coming years as part of its goal of landing a human on the lunar surface by 2030.

The launch of the unmanned Chang’e-6 is expected sometime between 08:30 GMT and 11:00 GMT and the mission – if successful – will go a long way to bolstering China’s ambitions to put a man on the moon by 2030.

However, the mission has also drawn concern from China’s arch-rival, the US, about Beijing’s geopolitical intentions amid what the head of Nasa has called a new “space race”.

Since the first Chang’e mission in 2007, named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess, China has made leaps forward in its lunar exploration, narrowing the technological gap with the United States and Russia.

With no direct line of sight to Earth, Chang’e-6 must rely on a recently deployed relay satellite orbiting the moon during its 53-day mission, including a takeoff from the moon’s “hidden” side never seen before try is not on his return journey home.

The same relay satellite will support the unmanned Chang’e-7 and 8 missions in 2026 and 2028, respectively, when China begins exploring the South Pole for water and builds a rudimentary outpost with Russia, in an effort to meet Beijing’s goal of astronauts on the moon by 2030.

The Chang’e-6 lunar probe and the Long March-5 Y8 launch vehicle. Photo: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

As part of its mission, the Chang’e-6 will attempt to retrieve samples from the south pole Aitken Basin, the largest and oldest impact crater on the Moon, located on the permanently Earth-facing side. Experts say the samples could answer questions about a significant period of solar system activity billions of years ago.

Should the mission be successful, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is expected to share the samples internationally, just as it did with the moon rocks that were recovered during the 5th Chang’e mission – the first collected since the American Apollo missions.

This mission in 2020 confirmed for the first time that China can safely return an unmanned spacecraft from the lunar surface to Earth.

China’s space program is central to the government’s overall national strategy, and is widely celebrated in the country as a demonstration of the country’s technological progress.

Beijing’s polar plans had worried Nasa, whose administrator, Bill Nelson, has repeatedly warned that China will claim any water resources as its own. Beijing says it remains committed to working with all nations to build a “shared” future.

Nelson also warned that China is bolstering its space capabilities by using civilian programs to hide military objectives, warning that Washington must remain vigilant.

Reuters contributed to this report

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