With the Chang'e-4 mission officially declared a success, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is now looking toward the future and planning the next phase of the Chang'e lunar exploration program.
Last week, CNSA officials announced the beginning of science operations at the touchdown site of the Chang'e-4 spacecraft — the first one to ever perform a soft landing on the far side of the moon. This week, the CNSA unveiled that China is already planning the Chang'e-5 mission — with three follow-up trips to the moon in the upcoming few years.
"Experts are still discussing and verifying the feasibility of subsequent projects, but it's confirmed that there will be another three missions after Chang'e-5," Wu Yanhua, deputy head of the CNSA, said during a press conference of the State Council Information Office held on Monday in Beijing.
According to China's state-run press agency Xinhua, the Chang'e-5 lunar probe will take to space by the end of the year. The mission will lift off from China's southernmost province of Hainan atop a Long March 5 rocket.
However, it's not yet clear whether Chang'e-5 will follow in the footsteps of the Chang'e-4 mission and land on the lunar far side or will touch down on the near side of the moon — just like the Chang'e-3 mission did in 2013.
"We will make the decision according to the performance of Chang'e-5."Sample Return Mission To The Moon
As the Inquisitr previously reported, China's Chang'e-5 robotic mission to the moon is designed to collect lunar samples. The mission is tasked with probing the surface of the moon and gathering 4.4 pounds of lunar material, which it will then return to Earth.
A second sample return mission to the moon, the Chang'e-6, is in the cards for the early 2020s, targeting the lunar south pole. An earlier report from GB Times stated that the Chang'e-5 probe would head toward a landing a site near Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, in the northwest region of the near side of the moon, whereas Chang'e-6 would attempt to retrieve samples from the lunar far side.
At the same time, the CNSA plans to launch another probe, the Chang'e-7, to "carry out comprehensive surveys" around the south pole of the moon. These scheduled investigations include studying the region's landforms, the physical composition of its terrain, and the space environment found in this particular area of the moon.
Last but not least, the Chang'e-8 mission will be launched to "lay the groundwork for the construction of a science and research base on the moon," notes Xinhua.
The moon base project involves an extensive international collaboration between China, the U.S., Russia, and several European countries — all of which are interested in testing technologies for building habitat modules on the surface of the moon by using 3D printing and lunar soil.
"We hope that Chang'e-8 will help test some technologies, and do some exploring for the building of a joint lunar base shared by multiple countries," said Wu.
Aside from these upcoming lunar missions, China has also set its eyes on Mars. The nation is planning on launching a probe to the red planet around 2020.
Meanwhile, the Chang'e-4 mission is climbing to all sorts of new heights. After beaming back the first 360-degree panorama of its landing site inside the 116-mile-wide Von Karman Crater within the massive South Pole‐Aitken Basin, the Chang'e-4 lander has succeeded in growing plants on the moon for the first time in history, the Inquisitr reported earlier today.
To see the 360-degree panorama of the touchdown location inside Von Karman Crater, as well as the latest portraits of the lander and the Yutu-2 "Jade Rabbit" rover, check out this previous report from the Inquisitr.