China Lunar Plans Focused on South Pole

China’s Yutu 2 rover drives off the Chang’e-4 lander. (Credit: CNSA)

China’s aggressive long-range program explore the moon includes a heavy focus on the south pole where probes have detected water.

China’s Chang’e-4 mission is currently exploring the moon with a rover and lander on the far side. The vehicles are communicating with Earth via an orbiting spacecraft. The Chang’e-4 mission also includes two lunar CubeSats, one of which is still operational.

China plans to launch the Chang’e-5 mission by the end of 2018 to bring back soil samples from the lunar surface. The plan is to bring back at least 2 kg (4.4 lb) of soil from the Mons Rümker region in the northwest section of the moon.

Xinhua reports there are three other moon missions planned in the years ahead:

  • Chang’e-7, set for launch in 2023, will carry out comprehensive surveys of the south pole;
  • Chang’e-6, scheduled to be launched in 2024, will bring back samples from the lunar south pole; and,
  • Chang’e-8, scheduled for launch in 2027, will test technologies to lay the ground work for a research base on the lunar surface.

China expects to conduct crewed missions to a lunar base sometime during the 2030’s.