International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Chang’e 6 Lunar Probe


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: China’s Lunar Exploration Program, Chandrayaan 4

Why in the News?

  • On June 25, Chang’e-6 became the world’s first spacecraft to bring back samples from the far side of the Moon.
    • Chang’e-6 successfully returned with samples from the lunar far side, making China the first country to achieve this feat.

About Chang’e-6 Mission 

  • The mission lasted 53 days, starting with a launch on May 3, 2024, and ending with the return capsule landing on June 25, 2024.
  • The lander descended into the South Pole-Aitken basin, one of the largest impact basins in the solar system, believed to contain material from the lunar mantle.
  • The lander used robotic scoops and drills to collect about 2 kilograms of lunar material, including both surface soil and subsurface samples.

Components of Chang’e-6 

  1. Lander: Equipped with drills and scoops for sample collection.
  2. Ascender: Transported samples from the lunar surface to lunar orbit.
  3. Orbiter: Carried the samples from lunar orbit back to Earth.
  4. Returner: Brought the samples safely back to Earth.

Collaboration and Payloads

The mission carried instruments from international partners, including:

  • French DORN: Studied lunar dust and volatiles.
  • Italian INRRI: Measured distances using a retroreflector.
  • Swedish NILS: Detected negative ions on the lunar surface.
  • Pakistani ICUBE-Q CubeSat: Imaged the lunar surface and obtained magnetic field data.

Scientific Goals  

  • Sample Analysis: Scientists aim to learn more about the Moon’s internal structure and the differences between its near and far sides.

China’s Lunar Exploration Program

  • Chang’e-6 follows previous missions under China’s Lunar Exploration Program, marking the next step in incremental technological advancements.
  • Phases of Exploration: The program has four phases:
  1. First Phase: Reaching lunar orbit, completed by Chang’e 1 (2007) and Chang’e 2 (2010).
  2. Second Phase: Landing and roving, achieved by Chang’e 3 (2013) and Chang’e 4 (2019).
  3. Third Phase: Sample collection and return, accomplished by Chang’e 5 (2020) and Chang’e 6 (2024).
  4. Fourth Phase: Developing a robotic research station near the Moon’s South Pole, aiming for crewed lunar landings in the 2030s.

Previous Lunar Sample Missions

  • Apollo 11 Mission (1969): The US mission brought 22 kg of lunar material, including 50 rocks.
  • Luna 16 Mission (1970): Soviet robotic mission brought lunar samples to Earth.
  • Chang’e-5 Mission (2020): Predecessor to Chang’e-6, returned 2 kg of lunar soil from the near side.

Significance of Sample Return Missions

  • Laboratory Analysis: Allows the use of sophisticated instruments to study the chemical, isotopic, mineralogical, structural, and physical properties of samples.
  • Long-term Preservation: Samples can be preserved and re-examined by future generations with advanced technology.
  • Technological Feat: Recovering samples from the far side is a significant technological achievement.
  • Step Towards Human Exploration: Success of Chang’e-6 is seen as a step towards China’s goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2030.
  • Launch Pad for Deep Space: The Moon could serve as a base for future deep space missions and extraterrestrial exploration.

Outcome: New Lunar Race

  • Global Participation: India, China, Japan, the US, and Russia launched lunar missions in 2023.
  • Future Missions: Over 100 Moon missions by governments and private companies are expected by 2030.
  • Long-term Goals: Unlike the 20th-century space race, today’s missions aim to establish a long-term presence and use lunar resources.

India’s Chandrayaan-4 Mission

  • Chandrayaan-4, under development by ISRO, will also be a sample return mission to be launched tentatively by 2028.
  • Chandrayaan-3 landed near the Moon’s South Pole last year, about 600 km from the target area for Chandrayaan-4.



[2016] Discuss India’s achievements in the field of Space Science and Technology. How the application of this technology helped India in its socio-economic development?

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