There is currently a resurgence of international interest in the Moon. Apart from NASA which wants to bring its astronauts back to lunar soil with the Artemis program, there are also other countries which are preparing exploration missions. China is one of these countries, and it seems that it already has a ready-made plan.
Right now, China is developing a set of robotic spacecraft that will be used to land on the Moon and search for water at the lunar south pole. The next Chinese lunar mission, called Chang’e 7, will thus need a precision landing system to properly target the ice in the area.
According to Chinese officials, the Chang’e 7 mission is scheduled to launch around 2024. The mission will analyze the Moon from orbit, but also explore the surface using multiple devices.
The goal is to find water at the south pole
The Moon exploration program’s chief designer, Wu Weiren, said it’s a major goal to find water at the south pole. There are deep lunar craters there, and if there is water, it could exist as ice.
Also according to Weiren, engineers are developing a special device that can detach from a lander and fly or jump to explore the surrounding craters. The CNSA has launched a call for Chinese institutes to develop payloads for Chang’e 7. In this call, we can see that the mission will be carried out by 5 devices. There will be an orbiter, a transmission satellite, a lander, a rover, and a “small flying device” that will carry the instrument used to detect water.
The challenges will be daunting for the Chang’e 7 mission
Landing at the lunar south pole will require identifying landing sites and making a precise landing. Preliminary analyzes revealed that only a tenth of the area could be used as a landing zone. So Chang’e 7 will need high precision landing as this one might be quite difficult.
The mission is part of a series of missions that has already been implemented over the past 15 years. The country had indeed approved a three-stage lunar program in the 2000s. First, there were the Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 orbiters, then the Chang’e 3 and 4 landers and rovers, then Chang’e ‘e 5 which brought back samples from the Moon towards the end of 2020.
The success of these missions led to the initiation of a fourth phase of China’s lunar missions. This phase includes the Chang’e 7 mission which will thus consist in studying lunar resources such as water, environment, climate, topography, as well as the relief of the lunar south pole.
Later, Chang’e 6, which was to serve as a backup mission for Chang’e 5, will attempt to take samples from the south pole and bring them back to Earth. Then, Chang’e 8 will be used to test technologies such as the use of local resources and 3D printing on the Moon.