After a bumper 2022 for space exploration, China has set about developing a new lunar rover as it prepares for another mission to the moon in 2026.
The Chang’e 7 mission objectives centre around exploring the moon’s south pole and far side.
Chang’e 7 forms part of the Chinese National Space Administration’s (CNSA) latest phase of lunar exploration, furthering the groundwork laid by its predecessors, the Chang’e 3 and 5 missions of 2013 and 2019, respectively.
Similar to China’s previous visits to the moon, Chang’e 7 will consist of a rover, lander and orbiter, but also features several new additions, like a small flying device that will explore hard-to-reach places in search of evidence of the presence of water and improved satellite-supported communications equipment.
Chang’e 7’s rover will build upon the Yutu and Yutu 2 rovers used in previous expeditions, according to the astronomy website, Space.
The solar-powered vehicle will be slightly larger than the roughly 140 kilogram rovers that came before it.
While sharing a similar base structure, it will carry different instruments and can act more autonomously than the Yutu 1 and 2, according to the Chang’e 7 deputy designer, Tang Yuhua.
Working out of the Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Centre of China, Tang told the press the new rover would act more independently than the rovers before it and is capable of mapping out its course with less remote intervention than previous Yutu rovers.
The Chang’e 7 mission will also deliver a smaller rover developed and built by the United Arab Emirates, which kickstarted its space program in 2014.
The new rover will be outfitted with a panoramic camera and a ground-penetrating radar similar to the Yutu 2.
In place of Yutu 2’s infrared and visible spectrometers, it will feature a magnetometer that will measure magnetic variations on the moon’s surface, and a Raman spectrometer responsible for analysing samples collected during the mission.
The 2026 Chang’e 7 mission will be followed up by Chang’e 8 in 2028, which the CNSA stated would focus on laying foundations for the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).
Chang’e 8 will test technologies required for 3D printing, and search for resources that may assist astronauts during lunar visits.
At present, both China and Russia have committed to the ILRS project and are looking for potential collaborators for the endeavour.
The ILRS will be able to host astronauts for “long-term” stays as early as 2035, according to the CNSA.
Before Chang’e 7 and 8 lift off, the Yutu 2 rover, which has been operating on the moon’s surface since 2018, will collect samples from the Aitken Basin near the South Pole.
The plucky rover – originally only tipped to explore the moon for four months – defied all expectations, remaining operational for a much longer duration.