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International Scientific Cooperation Could Be a Benefit of China’s Lunar Mission Delay

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EIRNS—China currently has two missions to the Moon, in the pipeline, and will likely switch the order between them. Delay of the Chang’e-5 sample-return mission, which was scheduled to launch in November, is likely. The extra time will allow more preparation, and create an unexpected opportunity, for scientists from other nations to collaborate on the mission.

The reason for the delay is that the Chang’e-5 is a highly-complex mission, that requires the most capable rocket in China’s inventory, which is the Long March 5. But that rocket is new, and had a failure in July. China will wait until it is confident of success before launching the Chang’e-5. Chinese space officials attending a recent lunar workshop in Beijing said the sample-return mission could launch next year, but that is still unknown. It is, therefore, possible that the Chang’e-4 lunar far side landing mission will launch first.

There is great interest in the global lunar science community in samples returned from this mission, whose target region is very different from the six Apollo landing sites. There are many "unknowns" about the Moon, and samples brought to Earth laboratories lead to the greatest trove of answers.

"We in ESA are having exploratory talks with China about future cooperation in lunar exploration," said James Carpenter, a "key player" in ESA’s exploration programs, at a recent ESA-CNSA workshop on lunar samples in Beijing. "And the science of sample analysis is a part of that." And it is expected that in October, China and Russia will sign a five-year space cooperation agreement, which will include lunar exploration, and could also include Russian collaboration on lunar sample scientific studies.

As far as the U.S. is concerned, where the most advanced analysis of lunar samples has been carried out since Apollo, the article points out that although bilateral NASA cooperation with China is prohibited, multilateral cooperation is not. The lunar sample curatorial facility at the Johnson Space Center is the most sophisticated in the world. [MGF]