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China Launches Sample Return Mission to the Far Side of the Moon

China launched today, with the Chang’e-6 mission, the first ever sample return from the far side of the Moon. It is one of the most complicated space missions yet endeavored. The mission includes three vehicles—an orbiter, a lander and ascender—as well as a re-entry module.

Contact with the mission will be facilitated by the Queqiao-2 relay satellite, which is already in place in an elliptical “frozen orbit” around the Moon, and which will transmit signals from the mission. The Chang’e-6 is also a collaborative effort, with a cubesat satellite being deployed for the first time by Pakistan, a Detection of Outgassing Radon (DORN) experiment from France, a Negative Ions at the Lunar Surface (NILS) experiment from Sweden, supported by the European Space Agency, and a laser retroflector from Italy. It is scheduled to be a 53-day round trip, and will collect 2 kilograms of soil and rocks from the lunar landing site. It will land on the South Pole-Aitken basin on the lunar far side.

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