China’s Chang’e 6 sample return mission successfully injected into Moon orbit

The China National Space Agency (CNSA) has announced that the Chang’e 6 sample return mission has been successfully captured by lunar gravity. The spacecraft is now orbiting the Moon, and will attempt a landing on the lunar far side at a suitable opportunity. China has handed over data from the IQUBE-Q CubeSat to Pakistan.

An image of the Moon captured by Pakistan’s IQUBE-Q CubeSat. (Image Credit: CNSA).

New Delhi: China has announced that the Chang’e 6 probe has successfully been injected into its circumlunar orbit. The spacecraft was successfully captured by lunar gravity at 10:12 hours Beijing Time on 10 May, 2023. Chang’e 6 successfully performed a cislunar braking manoeuvre before entering into orbit around the Moon. Without this operation, the spacecraft would have hurtled past the Moon.

The near-Moon braking procedure was one of the key operations during the planned flight profile. The braking made the relative speed of the spacecraft lower than the escape velocity around the Moon, allowing the probe to be captured by lunar gravity. The spacecraft is supported by the Queqiao 2 relay satellite that China launched in February. Chang’e 6 will now adjust its altitude and inclination of the orbit around the Moon.

CNSA has announced that the mission teams will choose an appropriate time to separate the orbiter-returner combination from the lander-ascender elements. The lander-ascender component will attempt a soft landing on the southern fringes of the Apollo crater, which is within the South Pole-Aitken Basin, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system. The ascender will then attempt to return samples from the lunar far side.

The Chang’e 6 mission was launched on a Long March 5 carrier rocket on 3 May, the largest and most powerful rocket in China’s fleet. On board were payloads from Europe, as well as the IQUBE-Q satellite, developed by the Institute of Space Technology in Pakistan and the Shanghai Jiao Tang University in Pakistan.

CNSA head Zhang Kejian handing over IQUBE-Q data to Pakistani Ambassador to China, Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi, at a ceremony in Beijing on 10 May, 2024. (Image Credit: CNSA).

China hands over IQUBE-Q data to Pakistan

In a ceremony held in Beijing on 10 May, Zhang Kejian, the head of CNSA handed over a data carrier to Khalil-ur-Rahman Hashmi, the Pakistani Ambassador to China. ICUBE-Q separated from the Chang’e 6 orbiter on 8 May to image the Moon with the pair of cameras on board.

Deputy Director of CNSA’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Centre, Ge Ping said, “I believe that this cooperation is of great significance to promoting friendly relations between the two countries and enriching people’s understanding of the Moon. We will share our scientific achievements to lay the foundation for future lunar exploration activities, which will be of great significance to promoting the construction of a global community with a shared future in outer space.”

Pakistan is one of the many countries that China is collaborating with for the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), and is actively working to onboard partners. One of the major collaborators for the initiative is Russia. China has also onboarded Egypt, Belarus, Thailand and South Africa.

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