Mosaic of the crater Shakleton, created by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and ShadowCam teams. Source: NASA / KARI / ASU
China prepares to launch the Chang’e-7 mission, within the framework of which it is planned to land the spacecraft near the crater Shakleton on the south pole of the Moon. It is estimated that this area could become a landing point for the future mission NASA Artemis 3.
Mission Chang’e-7 has several scientific objectives, including studying lunar morphology, as well as detecting icy soil and lunar components. To accomplish these tasks, scientific instruments will be installed on the spacecraft, including seismometer, probe-radar, magnetometer and spectrometer.
One of the main scientific questions that the Chang’e-7 mission will help solve is related to seismic activity at the Moon’s south pole. Previously obtained data from seismometers, installed as part of the Apollo program, indicate seismic activity with a magnitude of 5 to 6 and a duration of up to 10 minutes. The seismometer, installed on the Chang’e-7 apparatus, will record data on seismic activity at the Moon’s south pole over an extended period of time. These data will be taken into account when building the international lunar research base ILRS and Artemis base so that they can withstand strong seismic events.
Another important task of Chang’e-7 mission is related to the investigation of rocket components on the Moon. For this, a mini-drone will be used with a device for analyzing regolith and water molecules. In addition, the orbital instrument will be equipped with a gamma spectrometer, which will help study the distribution and sources of lunar ice, such as at the Moon’s south pole, as well as in permanently shadowed areas.
The International Lunar Research Base (ILRS) should be fully implemented by 2030. Now China is actively looking for partners for this project. The last country to sign the agreement became Egypt in December 2023.
One of the first steps within the framework of the Chang’e-7 mission — launch of the relay satellite Queqiao-2. The launch of the satellite is planned from the Wenchan cosmodrome on the rocket Long March 8, probably, already in February 2024. The mass of the satellite is 1200 kg, it will have a 4,2-meter antenna and a service life of more than eight years. This satellite will serve as a platform to support the missions of Chang’e-7 mission, as well as the Chang’e-6 mission to collect samples on the far side of the Moon and the Chang’e-4 mission to land and investigate the rover.
The relay satellite Queqiao-2 will also be equipped with three scientific instruments that will perform the common scientific tasks of the Chang’e-7 mission. It will be in an elliptic orbit with a 24-hour period while supporting the Chang’e-6 mission, and then change orbit to a 12-hour period for the Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 missions.
The National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT) also confirmed participation in the ILRS, which coincided with the announcement of the institute’s participation in the scientific tasks of the Chang’e-7 mission. Previous plans also mentioned the UAE’s plan to send a small rover to Luna, but this plan violated US ITAR regulations. Neither the rover nor the instruments from NARIT are mentioned in the new plans. Launch of the Chang’e-7 mission on the rocket is planned for 2026 from the cosmodrome Wenchan.