BEIJING (Agencies): China has taken another significant step in its deep space exploration efforts. On Friday, the Long March-5 Y8 carrier rocket was launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Site in Hainan, South China. The rocket carried the Chang’e-6 lunar probe, marking the world’s first attempt to retrieve lunar samples from the far side of the Moon.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) confirmed the successful launch after the spacecraft’s two pairs of solar panels opened smoothly. The round trip of Chang’e-6 to the moon and back is expected to take about 53 days, more than double the duration of its predecessor, Chang’e-5.

The new mission will involve more complex flight stages, with 11 stages designed for Chang’e-6, including launch and orbit insertion, lunar transfer, among others. The amount of Moon samples to be returned this time is also expected to be larger than the Chang’e-5 mission, with an expected retrieval of around 2,000 grams of lunar dust and rocks.

The Chang’e-6 mission aims to pioneer new techniques in lunar retrograde orbit design and control, intelligent sampling on the moon’s far side, and ascent from the lunar surface. After reaching lunar orbit, the lander and ascender combination will land on the far side of the moon. Upon completion of the sampling, the ascender will take off from the Moon to rendezvous and dock with the orbiter-returner combination, transfer the lunar samples to the returner, and then head back to Earth.

To promote international cooperation, the Chang’e-6 mission will carry a number of international payloads to the Moon, including the European Space Agency’s lunar surface ion composition analyzer, France’s radon detection instrument, Italy’s laser corner reflector, and a CubeSat from Pakistan, the CNSA revealed to the Global Times.

The Chang’e-6 mission is part of China’s Phase-4 lunar exploration program, which aims to land taikonauts on the Moon before 2030. China is also leading the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project together with Russia in the lunar south pole, with plans for a basic station to be built by 2035 and an expansion set for completion by 2045.

This mission comes amid increasing efforts by various countries to enhance their lunar programs, driven by a heightened interest in the opportunities for accessing resources and advancing deep space exploration. The US is also pursuing its own schemes to return astronauts to the Moon as soon as 2026 and build a scientific base camp, although the program, called Artemis, has been facing a number of challenges.

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