China’s Chang’e-6 Mission: Pioneering Lunar Exploration on the Far Side of the Moon

In a thrilling leap for space exploration, China’s Chang’e-6 mission has captivated the world with its daring adventure to the moon’s far side. From a successful launch to groundbreaking sample collection, this mission is rewriting the rules of lunar exploration. The probe, now back in lunar orbit after a triumphant sample collection, is poised to bring these precious lunar treasures back to Earth, marking a monumental milestone in humanity’s quest to uncover the moon’s secrets.

China’s recent lunar mission, Chang’e-6, embarks on an unprecedented journey to explore and sample the mysterious far side of the moon. This groundbreaking mission represents a significant milestone in China’s ambitious space exploration program and holds immense promise for advancing our understanding of the lunar surface.

Launching Towards Discovery

The journey began on May 13, 2024, with the successful launch of the Chang’e-6 lunar probe from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan Province. Riding atop the powerful Long March 5 Y8 rocket, the probe embarked on its historic 53-day mission to collect and return samples from the lunar far side. The launch marked a remarkable achievement for China’s space program and set the stage for groundbreaking discoveries.

A Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket, carrying the Chang’e 6 robotic lunar probe, blasts off on Friday from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province. Credits: @China National Space Administration
“We are happy,” said Yu Dengyun, Chief Designer of Phase Four of the China Lunar Exploration Program, after the launch. Despite heavy rain, the launch proceeded smoothly and was declared successful. Liao Guorui, Launch Commander at Wenchang, expressed his excitement, saying, “Hey Moon, we are coming!”

Complex Mission Phases Unfold

As the Chang’e-6 probe soared towards the moon, it underwent a series of meticulously planned stages. Deputy Chief Designer Wang Qiong outlined the mission’s 11 flight stages, which began with the probe entering a ‘rush to the moon’ process after launch. Upon nearing the moon, the probe executed a perilune braking process to enter lunar orbit.

Once in lunar orbit, the mission separated into its two combinations: the lander-ascender and the orbiter-returner. The lander-ascender combination was tasked with landing on the far side of the moon to carry out the lunar sampling tasks while the orbiter-returner remained in orbit. This division of labour was crucial for the mission’s success, ensuring that each component could focus on its specific objectives.

Touching Down on Uncharted Terrain

On June 2, 2024, history was made as the Chang’e-6 lander-ascender combination achieved a soft landing on the far side of the moon. Supported by the Queqiao-2 relay satellite, the lander-ascender touched down in the designated landing area within the South Pole-Aitken Basin—an area rich in scientific intrigue. This milestone marked the first-ever landing and exploration mission on the lunar far side, opening new frontiers for lunar research.

The landing process involved advanced technologies to ensure precision and safety. During the descent, an autonomous visual obstacle avoidance system and a laser 3D scanner were used to select a safe landing area. The combination hovered about 100 meters above the surface before making a slow vertical descent, ultimately touching down smoothly on the lunar terrain.

Technical personnel view data sent back by the lander-ascender combination of Chang’e-6 probe at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing, capital of China, June 2, 2024. China’s Chang’e-6 touched down on the far side of the moon on Sunday morning, and will collect samples from this rarely explored terrain for the first time in human history, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. Credits: @China National Space Administration

Navigating Challenges with Precision

The landing was not without its challenges. Hu Zhenyu, Head of the Launch Site Engineering & Technology Team, emphasized the complexity of the mission, particularly the engineering feats required for sample collection from the lunar far side. The mission’s success hinged on precise navigation, telemetry, and control processes, as well as the seamless execution of multiple flight stages.

The Chang’e-6 mission represents a significant technological breakthrough for China’s lunar exploration capabilities. The mission features intelligent and rapid sampling technologies, as well as sophisticated landing techniques to navigate the rugged terrain of the lunar far side.

Collecting Lunar Treasures

With the lander safely on the moon’s surface, the Chang’e-6 mission shifted its focus to sample collection. Equipped with advanced sensors and imaging technology, the probe began gathering lunar soil and rock samples from the South Pole-Aitken Basin. These samples hold immense scientific value, offering insights into the moon’s geological history and potential resources.

The probe utilized both drilling and surface sampling methods. A drill was used to collect subsurface samples, while a robotic arm gathered samples from the lunar surface. This dual approach ensured a comprehensive collection of materials for analysis.

Jin Shengyi, a space expert from the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), explained that the development team had built a simulation lab to ensure a smooth sampling process. The lab allowed the team to develop and verify sampling strategies and equipment control procedures, ensuring the accuracy of instructions sent to the probe.

On June 3, 2024, the “mobile camera” carried by Chang’e-6 moved autonomously and successfully took and sent back a photo of the lander and ascender. Credits: @China National Space Administration

Ascending Towards New Heights

After two days of successful sample collection, the Chang’e-6 ascender separated from the lander and lifted off from the lunar surface on June 4, 2024. Carrying precious lunar samples, the ascender entered its targeted orbit, marking another critical milestone in the mission’s progression. This phase sets the stage for the ascender to dock with the orbit-return combination, facilitating the return of lunar samples to Earth.

The ascender’s successful liftoff and orbit insertion were key steps in the mission’s plan. Over the next several days, the ascender will perform a series of orbital manoeuvres to align with the orbit-return combination, ensuring a precise and safe transfer of the lunar samples.

Preparing for the Return Journey

As the Chang’e-6 mission continues to unfold, it represents more than just a scientific endeavour—it symbolizes China’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration. With each successful manoeuvre and discovery, the mission brings us closer to unlocking the moon’s mysteries and expanding our understanding of the cosmos.

Once the lunar samples are safely transferred to the returner, the mission will enter its final stages. The orbit-return combination will approach Earth, and the return capsule will separate, re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and landing in Siziwangqi, Inner Mongolia. This meticulous process will ensure the safe recovery of the valuable lunar samples.

China’s Chang’e-6 mission stands as a testament to human ingenuity and the spirit of exploration. As the probe ventures further into the unknown reaches of space, it inspires awe and wonder, reminding us of the boundless potential that lies beyond our planet’s horizon. The mission’s success paves the way for future endeavours and collaborations in the realm of space science, heralding a new era of lunar exploration and discovery.


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