China is on track to launch a lunar lander in the first half of this year — a move that could show its ability to beat the US in the race back to the moon.
The China National Space Agency (CNSA) said on Wednesday that its lunar explorer had arrived at its launch site ahead of its mission to collect samples from the far side of the moon.
The mission could be a major demonstration of the nation’s spacefaring prowess, as no other nation has brought samples back from the far side of the moon.
The US announced the news a day following the recent failure of the US to successfully land a spacecraft in the lunar orbit due to a fuel leak .
US private firm Astrobotic’s lander, which is backed by NASA, set off for the moon on Monday with hopes that it could be the first American spacecraft to land on the moon in over 50 years.
But, the spacecraft crashed shortly after its launch into space.
China hopes to have a more successful mission. It has a solid track record for lunar landings and became the first nation to land a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019. That mission enabled it to collect the first new lunar samples in 45 years in 2020.
China’s new mission will aim to deliver a lunar probe called Chang’e 6 to the moon.
It will attempt to collect about 70 ounces of material, both scooped and drilled, from the far side of the moon before delivering its payload safely back to Earth, per online news site Spacenews.
The Chinese lander will carry equipment from France, Italy, Sweden, and the European Space Agency, per state-run Chinese news agency Xinhua.
A Pakistani payload will be carried by the mission’s spacecraft orbiter. This is a vehicle that will rendezvous in the orbit of the moon to meet the probe and bring it back to Earth.
The US has aggressive plans to bring humans back to the Moon. This is a target that many countries are aiming for to extend their reach beyond Earth.
CNSA wants to send humans to the Moon by the end decade. NASA recently announced it was delaying its own mission to put boots back on the moon, but still aims to get there before China with a predicted launch date in 2026.
While Astrobotic’s hopes of landing its first Peregrine lander on the moon were dashed this week, it’s not the end for the US private moon landing missions.
Another company, Intuitive Machines, is getting ready to launch its own NASA-backed lunar lander, IM-1, within the next few weeks.