Factbox-China's missions to the moon - past, present and future

By Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday launched a mission to collect samples from the moon's "hidden" side, a first in space exploration history, and marked a new phase in China's 20-year-old Chang'e lunar programme, named after the mythical moon goddess.


LAUNCH: Oct. 24, 2007

LANDING SITE: Impact point north of Mare Fecunditatis ("Sea of Fertility") on the near side of the moon

MISSION: Under the first phase of China's lunar exploration programme, the uncrewed Chang'e-1 orbited the moon and took 3-D images of its landforms and geological structures in preparation for future landings. The spacecraft was intentionally crashed onto the moon on March 1, 2009, after the mission.

DURATION: The mission was planned for 12 months, but lasted for 16 months.


LAUNCH: Oct. 1, 2010


MISSION: The uncrewed Chang'e 2 orbited the moon and tested a 100-kilometre-high lunar orbit to prepare for a soft landing of Chang'e-3. It later extended its mission with a fly-by of a near-earth asteroid "4179 Toutatis".

DURATION: The mission lasted eight months, ending on June 9, 2011. But Chang'e-2 continued on to 4179 Toutatis, capturing images of the asteroid in December 2012. It lost its connection with Earth in mid-2014, having travelled 100 million kilometres (62.1 million miles). It is expected to return to Earth's vicinity around 2027.


LAUNCH: Dec. 2, 2013

LANDING SITE: Mare Imbrium ("Sea of Rains") on the moon's near side

MISSION: Marking the second phase of China's lunar programme, Chang'e-3 completed a soft landing on the moon, the first by any nation since 1976. The mission tested China's ability to safely and precisely land there. It also delivered China's first lunar rover, Yutu, ("Jade Rabbit") onto the lunar surface, on which it moved for 118.9 metres (390 ft). Yutu transmitted videos, and dug and analysed soil samples. It was also equipped with a basic autonomous navigation system to avoid collisions.

DURATION: Operations for Chang'e-3's lander, the module that descended to the lunar surface, was planned for one year. Yutu's designed lifespan was three months. The stationary lander is still operational today. Yutu operated for two years and seven months until July 31, 2016.


LAUNCH: Dec. 8, 2018

LANDING SITE: Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the moon's far side

MISSION: Chang'e-4 conducted the first-ever soft landing on the moon's far side carrying the Yutu-2 rover. Yutu-2 moved on the surface for more than 1,455 metres. The mission tested China's ability to safely and precisely land on the moon's far side, as well as its communications with ground operations on Earth.

DURATION: Both the lander and rover are still operational today, with communication with Earth facilitated by Queqiao-1 ("Bridge of Magpies"), a relay satellite in a halo orbit about 65,000 kilometres from the far side of the moon.


LAUNCH: Nov. 24, 2020

LANDING SITE: Mons Rümker in Oceanus Procellarum ("Ocean of Storms") on the moon's near side

MISSION: Under the third phase of China's lunar programme, Chang'e-5 conducted China's first sample return mission from the moon's near side. It brought back 1,731 grams (61 oz) of lunar soil samples. Chang'e-5 also showed that a Chinese spacecraft can safely land and take off from the moon and return to earth.

DURATION: The mission lasted for 23 days. The samples were brought back to Earth on Dec. 17, 2020. Chang'e-5's orbiter is still operational.


LAUNCH: May 3, 2024

LANDING SITE: Apollo crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the moon's far side

MISSION: As phase four of the programme, Chang'e 6 will acquire samples from a side of the moon that perpetually faces away from Earth. Chang'e-6 will land in the South Pole-Aitken basin, an area with the largest-known impact craters in the solar system. Chang'e-6 will further test China's precise landing capability. Communication with Earth will be mainly via the second relay satellite, Queqiao-2, that orbits the moon.

DURATION: Expected to last 53 days.



PLANNED LANDING SITE: Near the southeast ridge of Shackleton crater in the lunar South Pole on the moon's far side

MISSION: Chang'e-7 will explore for resources, including ice.

DURATION: Chang'e-7's orbiter, lander and rover will have a lifespan of eight years. A mini "flying" probe, capable of "jumping" into craters to search for water, will have a lifespan of six months.



PLANNED LANDING SITE: The lunar south pole on the moon's far side

MISSION: Chang'e-8 will land on the lunar South Pole and verify in-situ resource development. It will also conduct a 3D-printing experiment using in-situ resources to build a structure, testing a form of technology for the construction of a lunar base. Chang'e-8 will include a lander, a rover and a robot.





MISSION: China plans its first crewed lunar mission, landing two astronauts on the moon by 2030, on a spacecraft named Mengzhou ("Vessel of Dreams") and a lander called Lanyue ("Embracing the Moon").


(Reporting by Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)