In a significant announcement at the 74th International Astronautical Congress, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) unveiled its ambitious plans for the Chang’e-8 lunar exploration mission, set to launch around the year 2028. This mission marks a crucial step in China’s lunar exploration program and is designed to work in tandem with the Chang’e-7 mission, forming the foundational components of a lunar research station.
The Chang’e-8 mission has a multifaceted agenda that encompasses the exploration and research of various lunar physical fields, regional geological profiles, lunar-based Earth observations, in-situ lunar sample analysis, resource utilization, and the establishment of small, enclosed terrestrial ecosystems on the lunar surface, as reported by The Paper.
One of the primary goals of the Chang’e-8 mission is to contribute to the establishment of a lunar research station in collaboration with Chang’e-7 and other missions. This lunar research station holds the promise of fostering groundbreaking discoveries and serving as a testament to China’s commitment to space exploration.
What sets China’s lunar exploration project apart is its adherence to the principles of “equality, mutual benefit, peaceful use, and win-win cooperation.” The CNSA has extended an open invitation to countries and international organizations to participate in this grand endeavor, offering opportunities for cooperation at the mission, system, and unit levels. This approach underscores China’s dedication to fostering international collaboration in space exploration and working together to unlock new scientific frontiers.
International cooperation for the Chang’e-8 mission will prioritize tasks involving spacecraft-to-spacecraft interactions, joint exploration initiatives, lunar surface robots equipped with basic operational capabilities, complementary scientific payloads, and innovative scientific cooperation projects. These collaborative efforts aim to maximize the scientific output and knowledge gained from this mission.
The Chang’e-8 mission’s lander is designed to accommodate 200 kilograms of payload resources, with an independent module mass of no more than 100 kilograms. This provision opens the door for international partners to engage in system-level and unit-level cooperation projects. To facilitate this, the CNSA has set a deadline of December 31, 2023, for the submission of letters of intent for international cooperation projects related to Chang’e-8. The preliminary selection process is scheduled to conclude by April 2024, with final selections confirmed by September of the same year.
In addition to Chang’e-8, China’s lunar exploration roadmap includes the Chang’e-7 mission, set for launch around 2026. Chang’e-7’s primary mission is to search for evidence of lunar water in the lunar south pole region. This mission aligns with China’s commitment to advancing our understanding of lunar resources and potential utilization for future lunar activities.
Another essential component of China’s lunar exploration efforts is the Chang’e-6 lunar mission, on track for launch around 2024. Chang’e-6 is focused on collecting samples from the lunar far side, a scientifically valuable endeavor. This mission will explore the relatively older lunar terrain of the lunar far side, including the Aitken Basin, one of the Moon’s three major basins.
To enhance international cooperation and collaboration, Chang’e-6 will carry payloads and satellite projects from countries and regions worldwide, including France, the European Space Agency, Italy, and Pakistan. This global collaboration underscores the cooperative spirit of international space exploration and the willingness of nations to come together in pursuit of shared scientific goals.
As we look ahead to China’s upcoming lunar missions, it is evident that the Chang’e-8 mission, along with its predecessors and successors, represents a monumental stride in our understanding of the Moon and the broader universe. By actively promoting international cooperation, China demonstrates its commitment to space exploration as a global endeavor, fostering a shared future for humanity in the cosmos.