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Are Chang’e-6’s lunar samples on the way back to Earth?

In Friday’s June 21, 2024 quick links, changes to lunar orbit of China’s Chang’e-6 sample return spacecraft were detected by ham operators. As I noted, “It isn’t clear whether this was the previous orbit adjustment, a new one, or the burn that would send the sample return capsule back to Earth.”

According to Space News today, the spacecraft with the samples is on its way back to Earth, based on additional information detected by amateurs. China however has released no information on the status of the spacecraft.

Upon return to Earth, the reentry capsule is expected to touch down at Siziwang Banner, Inner Mongolia during an half-an-hour long window opening at 1:41 a.m. Eastern (0541 UTC) June 25. The information is according to airspace closure notices. CNSA has not openly published timings of mission events in advance.

Earlier reports (which I can’t find now) had said the return was tentatively scheduled for June 25, 2024, so this Space News report makes sense. The lack of information from China is par for the course.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.


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  • Jeff Wright reports it back.

  • Questioner

    If China succeeds in bringing rock samples from Mars to Earth first, we can say that China has taken the lead in space.

  • Edward

    Questioner wrote: “If China succeeds in bringing rock samples from Mars to Earth first, we can say that China has taken the lead in space.

    Everyone fell into that trap with the Soviets in the 1960s. NASA would announce its next move, the Soviets would do something that looked as advanced as NASA’s plan, then the world would ooh and aah over the Soviet superior technology. The Soviets were ahead in the late 1950s because the U.S. had announced its intention to orbit an artificial satellite for the Geophysical Year, and the Soviets worked hard to beat the U.S. However, they were slipping behind by the time of NASA’s Project Gemini. The loss of their chief designer, Korolev (sometimes spelled Koreliev), put the last nail in the coffin.

    For China to truly take the lead, they will have to perform an overall better program than anyone else, and it would help if they did it without using other people’s technology (not necessary to be a leader, but it is much more impressive).

    NASA’s main problems right now are that it lacks the political support to do the things the politicians say they want, and they are too reliant on foreign partners, which causes problems, delays, or cancellation whenever any of the partners (including the U.S.) hesitates in its support of the project or is not as prepared for its part as had been thought.

  • Edward wrote, “For China to truly take the lead, they will have to perform an overall better program than anyone else…”

    A very careful review of China’s government space program, beginning about a decade ago, says without doubt that they have “an overall better program than anyone else.” They put together a very rational long term plan, and have been steadily executing it, almost completely on schedule.

    It is still a top-down system dependent often on stealing ideas from others, but it is a very big mistake for Americans to belittle anything China is doing. They are beating us at every step, and doing so in an embarrassing way.

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote, “They are beating us at every step, and doing so in an embarrassing way.

    This is probably because they have avoided depending upon partners in their space endeavors.

    I think I could argue that SpaceX has also “put together a very rational long term plan, and [has] been steadily executing it, almost completely on schedule” despite its own government attempting to hold it back, in recent years. SpaceX’s long term plan does not include performing seemingly impressive tricks, such as landing probes in places never explored before, but is a long term plan for planetary colonization.

    NASA has similar problems with the U.S. government — twelve of the past sixteen years have been under hostile presidents — it still has a more impressive current record than the Chinese, who look more like the 1960s Soviets, pulling parlor tricks that look better than anyone else. NASA has probes exploring the solar system from Sun’s coronal atmosphere to interstellar space, and probes exploring Mars, Jupiter, and Jupiter’s trojan asteroids. They have a multitude of satellites exploring the Earth and The Moon, too. They have telescopes exploring many wavelengths of the universe, and all this is accomplished even with the problems that come from foreign partnerships.

    China may be on track to catch up some day soon, but I don’t think they are there just yet.

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