(2022) What is China’s Moon Mission plan?

In Chinese tradition, the full moon is a symbol of peace, prosperity, and family reunion. The Moon has always been an integral part of Chinese culture, following the lunar calendar. Hence it is no wonder that the lunar exploration program has always been such an integral part of China’s space ventures.

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program

The Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP), is also known as the Chang’e Project, named after the Chinese moon goddess “Chang’e”. Under CLEP, the CNSA (China National Space Administration) uses its trademark Long March series rockets to send various scientific research equipments like orbiters, landers, rovers, scanners, telescopic cameras, etc., to study the Moon both from orbit and from its surface directly. The first spacecraft to be launched as part of this mission was the Chang’e 1, back in 2007. The Chang’e 1 and 2 were orbiters, 3 and 4 had landers and rovers, while the Chang’e 5, launched in November 2020, even brought back samples of the moon successfully back to Earth, becoming China’s first probe to do so.

The success stories of Chang’e 4 and 5

  • Chang’e 4 – This mission was launched on 18 December 2018. It carried the Yutu 2 rover, and the lander touched down the far side of the Moon on 2 January 2019. As of February 2022, the rover has been in function scanning the Lunar surface for more than 1125 days, has covered about 2800 feet of surface, and sent back more than 3600 gigabytes of data. Despite dealing with alternating extreme cold and heat of lunar day and night cycle on top of intense solar radiations, the rover is still intact and working, along with its scientific instruments, setting new records of longevity. It is now moving towards further unexplored territory on the Moon, in preparation for the CLEP’s future Chang’e programs and plans.
  • Chang’e 5 – This mission was launched on 24 November 2020, and landed on the Moon on 1 December 2020. The spacecraft landed in Oceanus Procellarum—the Ocean of Storms—a dark-grey region in the Moon’s northwest corner visible very faintly with the naked eye from Earth, and aimed to collect samples from the site of an almost 1.2 billion year old volcanic event. The Chang’e-5 probe successfully returned to earth on 16 December 2020 and retrieved about 1,731 grams of samples from the moon, and these samples will help scientists understand more about the Moon’s history in detail, as well as how Earth and the solar system evolved over time.

Future plans of the Chang’e project

The Lunar Exploration program has plans to launch 3 missions in the coming decade, the Chang’e 6, 7, and 8. The combined objective of these 3 missions is to develop and deploy an autonomous lunar research station near Moon’s South Pole.

  • Chang’e 7 will be first to launch, by around 2024. It will carry an orbiter, a relay satellite, a lander, a rover, and a prototype flying craft, and altogether they will scout for evidence of ice at the south pole of the Moon.
  • Chang’e 6 is scheduled to launch shortly after, and aims to collect and retrieve rock samples from the South Pole back to the Earth. Chang’e 6 was originally considered to be a backup plan for Chang’e 5, but it wasn’t needed immediately given its success.
  • Chang’e 8 will potentially join up with Russia and any other countries that join up, launch by the end of 2027, and establish a joint International Lunar Research Station, and lay a solid foundation for future programs that are planned to be manned exploration missions.

The penultimate objective of the CLEP is to pave way for and facilitate crewed missions to the Moon and even establish a permanent base on the South Pole with international cooperation and conduct extensive and thorough research remaining on the Moon itself in the next decade. This ambitious yet realizable goal has still a long way to go, but the country has committed a lot of resources towards the plans and preparations are in full force.


China in the recent years has emerged as a major space power with manned space missions and landing a rover in the dark side of the moon. The Chang’e project’s to build International Lunar Research Station will enable an expandable robotic base that can facilitate long term stays by astronauts on the lunar surface. It will be a separate from the Artemis project led by the US, and will conduct its own set of surveys and scientific experiments. The construction of such a lunar science base would really be a great success for the Chinese Space Program.

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