The new colonial movement: In a recent paper Chinese scientists revealed their landing plans for the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, presently scheduled for at 2019 launch.
If all goes according to plan, the robotic Chang’e 5 will land in the Rümker region, which lies within a huge basaltic lunar plain called Oceanus Procellarum (Latin for “Ocean of Storms”).
A recent paper lays out the scientific significance of this site, and what Chang’e 5 may be able to find there. “Recent studies find that the geological features and volcanic history of the moon are far more complex than previously thought, and many of the most interesting areas have been neither explored nor sampled,” states the study, which was led by Yuqi Qian of the School of Earth Sciences at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. “One such area is the northern Oceanus Procellarum region, which consists of very young (<2 Ga) [less than 2 billion years old] mare materials and hosts one of the largest volcanic complexes on the moon (Mons Rümker)."
For the study, the research team conducted a detailed geological mapping of the Rümker region using imagery, spectral and altimetry data.
Chang’e-5 should not be confused with Chang’e-4, which is set to launch in the fall to land on the Moon’s far side.
The choice of the volcanic region around the Ocean of Storms is significant, as it indicates that, for at least this mission, China is not focused on the possibly more valuable polar regions where water-ice might be present for future lunar bases. Instead, they are giving a priority to science and geology with this probe. They likely also picked this site because it is near the equator and therefore a bit easier to reach on this first daring sample return mission.
It does appear however that China is taking the long view. The landing choice here suggests to me that they plan many more missions to the Moon, and do not see anyone else in a position to compete with them for territory. The U.S., Russia, and Europe appear to be throwing their eggs into the basket of (F)LOP-G, which will merely orbit the Moon and eat up resources preventing these countries from planning and building any landing missions, for decades. India meanwhile might be a competitor, but at the moment it is far behind.
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