China’s Chang’e-7 lunar mission will target the rim of Shackleton Crater

The Moon's south pole, with landers

China’s Chang’e-7 lunar mission, which will include an orbiter, lander, rover, and “mini-flying” probe, will land in 2026 on the rim of Shackleton Crater, one of the same candidate landing zones for NASA’s manned Artemis program.

The map to the right shows the lander’s approximate landing site, on the illuminated rim of thirteen-mile-wide Shackleton Crater at the Moon’s south pole. The candidate landing zone for NASA is also on this rim, but the location might not be precisely the same. From the abstract of the published paper [pdf] outlining the project’s science goals:

The lander will land on Shackleton crater’s illuminated rim near the lunar south pole, along with the rover and mini-flying probe. The relay satellite (named Queqiao-2) will be launched in February 2024 as an independent mission to support relay communication for ongoing scientific exploration of Chang’E-4 (CE-4), the upcoming Chang’E-6 (CE-6) in 2024, and subsequent lunar missions.

Though the abstract states the target is Shackleton’s rim, the paper is less specific, showing a map with a much wider “candidate landing region”. It is unclear if China as yet has the ability to land with the pinpoint accuracy necessary to hit the rim as stated. The paper is also devoid of any technical details about the lander, rover, or its mini-flyer. It lists the science instruments and their science goals, but describes nothing more specific. For example, will the flyer bounce or use small rockets to lift off? Or will it simply be released prior to landing with no capability of taking off again?

The big story here is the race to get to Shackleton first. NASA presently hopes its first Artemis manned mission to land on the Moon, Artemis-3, will arrive in September 2026, with its stated goal landing at or near the south pole. That schedule is certainly tentative, based on NASA’s recent track record. China is now targeting that same year, but its recent track record for its lunar program has been far more reliable.

The Outer Space Treaty forbids both countries from claiming any territory, but possession is always nine-tenths of reality. Expect China to touch down first, and hold what it touches.

August 22, 2022 Quick space links

From BtB’s stringer Jay: