top of page

China's Pioneering Lunar Endeavors: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Moon's Hidden Side

Updated: Aug 3

China's ambitious space exploration program, orchestrated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA), has been making headlines for its exceptional achievements in lunar exploration. In less than two decades, China has emerged as a powerful player in the arena of space science, setting numerous records and achieving multiple firsts in lunar exploration.

Decoding China's Moon Missions

The nation's lunar exploration initiative, known as the Chang'e program, has successfully launched a series of missions to the moon. Named after the Chinese goddess of the moon, the Chang'e program's primary objective is to establish a foundation for a permanent lunar base.

The Initial Steps: Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2

China's first tryst with lunar exploration began in 2007 with the launch of Chang'e-1. This spacecraft's primary function was to map the moon's surface to identify potential landing sites for future missions. It successfully completed its mission within two years, paving the way for Chang'e-2 in 2010. This second orbiter mirrored the achievements of its predecessor, cementing China's place in the sphere of lunar exploration.

China's Chang'e 3 lander on the surface of the moon.

China's Chang'e 3 lander on the surface of the moon. (Image credit: CNSA/CLEP)

Chang'e-3: The Historic Lunar Landing

In 2013, China launched Chang'e-3, its first attempt at a moon landing. The spacecraft successfully touched down on the moon's surface by the end of the year, making China the third country to achieve a soft landing on the moon, following the United States and the Soviet Union.

Once on the moon, Chang'e-3 deployed Yutu, a six-wheeled rover, marking the first time a wheeled vehicle had roamed the lunar surface since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 mission in 1976. Despite experiencing technical difficulties, Yutu transmitted valuable data until 2015, aiding researchers in discovering a new type of volcanic rock on the moon.

Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2: Venturing to the Far Side of the Moon

In the wake of the successful Chang'e-3 mission, China launched Chang'e-4 in December 2018. This mission marked a significant milestone, as Chang'e-4 became the first-ever lunar lander to set foot on the far side of the moon. The lander and its rover, Yutu-2, have been studying the lunar surface and sending back valuable data, including the notable discovery of a unique blend of minerals, providing evidence for a once molten mantle below the moon's crust.

This image is one of the first taken after landing by the Chang'e 3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013.

This image is one of the first taken after landing by the Chang'e 3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013. (Image credit: CASC/China Ministry of Defense)

Queqiao and Longjiang: Overcoming Communication Barriers

The Chang'e-4 mission's landing on the far side of the moon presented unique communication challenges, as the moon itself blocked direct communication with Earth. To overcome this problem, China launched a relay satellite, Queqiao, six months before Chang'e-4's launch. Queqiao, positioned at a gravitationally stable point, successfully transmits data to and from the far side's surface. Along with Queqiao, China also launched two microsatellites, Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2, to study celestial sources in very long radio wavelengths.

Future Lunar Missions: Chang'e-5 and Beyond

With the success of the Chang'e-4 mission, China has already set its sights on the next steps. Chang'e-5, has also return invaluable lunar samples to Earth - a feat not achieved since the 1970s. This mission has solidified China's position as the third country to make a round trip to the moon.

Subsequent missions, Chang'e-6 and Chang'e-7, are planned for the mid 2020s, and will focus on more ambitious sample return missions and in-depth exploration of the moon's south pole. The ultimate goal? To identify ideal locations for future lunar bases.

Reach new levels in space career through globally accessible and affordable on-demand learning.

With its eyes set on the horizon, China has already planned for Chang'e-8, which will test building a structure on the lunar surface using in-situ resource utilization. This, along with the prospect of a crewed moon landing by 2030, represents China's bold vision for lunar exploration.

As China continues to push the boundaries of lunar exploration, the world watches in anticipation of what the next decade will bring. Given their track record, we may well be witnessing the dawn of a new space race. These missions not only represent a technological triumph but also open up new avenues of scientific discovery, unraveling the secrets of our celestial neighbor one mission at a time.

18 views0 comments
bottom of page