Future Chinese moon missions to have more foreign content

Future Chinese moon missions to have more foreign content

Chang'e-8 mission in 2028 will have 200kg of capacity for scientific equipment from other countries

A model of the moon lander for the Chang'e 4 lunar probe is displayed at the Zhuhai Airshow in Guangdong province of China in November 2018. (Photo: Reuters)
A model of the moon lander for the Chang'e 4 lunar probe is displayed at the Zhuhai Airshow in Guangdong province of China in November 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

China's upcoming Chang'e-8 moon mission will offer an unprecendented amount of space for equipment for other countries.

The mission is currently slated to launch in 2028, and will have 200kg (440lb) of payload capacity for interested countries, Wang Qiong, the mission's deputy chief designer, said on Monday.

These could be instruments fixed to the lander or items such as robots, rovers and flight vehicles that can work independently after landing, Wang told the International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Letters of intent must be submitted to China National Space Administration by the end of this year, and priority will be given to innovative projects, robots which can grab objects from the moon's surface — including lunar soil — and scientific instruments that complement Chinese ones.

CNSA also welcomes mission-level cooperation, where China and its partners would launch and operate their probes separately but carry out spacecraft-to-spacecraft interaction in orbit or joint exploration on the surface, he said.

Opening up as much as 200kg payload mass for international partners is unprecedented.

For example, the Chang'e-6 mission — which aims to launch next year and become the first mission to bring back samples from the far side of the moon — will carry less than 20kg of equipment from France, Sweden, Italy and Pakistan.

China is working towards the goal of building a base near the south pole of the moon around 2035 and the mission could help advance that goal.

Wang said potential landing sites included the Shackleton-de Gerlache connecting ridge or three craters — Leibnitz Beta, Amundsen or Cabeus — all of which are believed to harbour water-ice that could be used to support a lunar base.

He said the mission is still in the concept design phase and will comprise a lander, a rover and operation robot, as well as testing resource utilisation technology.

It will carry a total of 14 instruments to conduct geological investigations, moon-based Earth observations and on-site lunar sample analysis, as well as testing technology on enclosed terrestrial ecosystems.

The equipment it carries will include cameras, a seismometer, a soft X-ray telescope, a low-frequency electromagnetic field detector, a multispectral imager for Earth observation.

The four payloads on the rover will include a lunar penetrating radar, infrared spectrum mineral analyser and equipment to analyse and store samples.

Thomas Zurbuchen, a former Nasa science associate administrator, said that he was excited to see China's moon exploration plans.

"Exploring the moon, like the colleagues from China had told us, changes not only our understanding of the moon but also the relationship between the moon and the Earth, and hence the history of the Earth," said Zurbuchen, who is now a professor at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

He also highlighted the benefits of international cooperation in space, saying: "In a space community, [I hope] we can transcend some of the boundaries that separate us here on Earth and work together as one."

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