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General Studies 3 >> Science & Technology

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1. Context:
Chang’e 6 is attempting to replicate its predecessor’s feat but from the moon’s far side. This time, the scientific goal is to understand why the far side is so different from the near side. In the pre-dawn hours (IST) of June 4 (2024), a small spacecraft bearing lunar samples took off from the moon’s far side, headed for an orbit that would bring it in contact with an orbiter waiting for it. There, the spacecraft ‘handed over’ the samples to a capsule on the returner, which will bring the samples back to the earth in a two-week journey. Scientists will thus finally have access to pieces of moon soil and rocks from its far side. This is China’s ambitious and ongoing Chang’e 6 mission. 
2. What are the Chang’e missions? 
  • China's lunar missions are named Chang'e after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology. The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) started the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP) in 2003, with the first Chang'e mission launching in 2007. Chang'e 1 mapped the moon's surface.
  • With Chang'e 2, CLEP began phase I of its lunar missions, enhancing the orbiter with a more advanced camera. The images captured were instrumental in preparing for the Chang'e 3 mission's successful lander and rover deployment on December 14, 2013, marking the start of CLEP’s phase II missions.
  • In 2019, Chang'e 4 made history by carrying the first lander and rover to the moon's far side, allowing for exploration of this less understood area.
  • Phase III kicked off with the Chang'e 5 mission in late 2020, which landed on the moon's near side. This mission featured an ascender that collected lunar soil samples and launched into orbit, where an orbiter retrieved the samples and transferred them to a returner, which brought them back to Earth. Chang'e 6 aims to replicate this mission on the moon's far side to investigate the distinct differences between the far and near sides.
3. What is the far side?
  • The moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning the same lunar hemisphere always faces Earth while the opposite hemisphere, known as the far side, always faces away. The far side is characterized by rockier terrain and fewer smooth plains, making it more challenging for spacecraft to land there. Additionally, direct communication between Earth and a spacecraft on the far side is impossible due to the lack of a line of sight. To overcome this, a second spacecraft must be positioned to relay signals between Earth-based ground stations and the spacecraft on the moon's surface, adding complexity to the mission.
  • The far side of the moon is considered an ideal location for installing large telescopes, which would have an unobstructed view of the universe, free from Earth's interference. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and scientists at the Raman Research Institute in Bengaluru are currently developing such a device, named PRATUSH.
4. What is the status of Chang’e 6? 
  • On May 3 (2024), the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) launched the Chang’e 6 orbiter-lander assembly, weighing 8.3 tonnes, which successfully entered lunar orbit by May 8. On May 30, the lander complex separated from the orbiter, descending towards a sizable crater named Apollo, a maneuver completed on June 1.
  • Scientists from the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP) managed this phase of the mission, collaborating with the Queqiao 2 relay satellite, launched by CNSA in February and positioned in an elliptical orbit around the moon. Upon reaching the Apollo crater, a drilling mechanism extracted approximately 2 kg of soil, which was then transferred to the ascender using a scoop. The ascender departed for lunar orbit on June 4, rendezvousing with the orbiter and delivering the samples to a capsule within the returner by June 6.
  • Anticipated to arrive on Earth by June 25 (2024), the returner is tasked with bringing the collected lunar samples back for further analysis.
5. What might the samples reveal?
  • Given that Chang’e 6 is a Chinese-led mission, the significance of the samples collected depends not only on the substance itself but also on the entity collecting them and the timing of the mission. Unlike some other lunar missions, the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) has not been providing regular and detailed updates.
  • After CNSA retrieves the capsule containing the lunar samples, Chinese scientists will have primary access for analysis before potentially allowing foreign research teams access based on submitted proposals. It remains uncertain whether any Indian research groups have submitted proposals for access.
  • From a scientific standpoint, the samples obtained from the far side of the moon are anticipated to provide valuable insights into the lunar formation process and planetary development. For instance, researchers speculate that the disparity in terrain between the moon's hemispheres may be attributed to the heat released by Earth during the moon's formation and the thermochemical properties near the lunar surface.
For Prelims: Gaganyaan programme, TV-D1 mission, Low Earth Orbit, Isro, LVM3, GSLV Mk III, 
For Mains: 
1. Discuss the key objectives of the TV-D1 mission within the Gaganyaan program. How does this mission contribute to astronaut safety and the overall success of Gaganyaan? (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. With reference to India's satellite launch vehicles, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2018)
1. PSLVs launch satellites useful for Earth resources monitoring whereas GSLVs are designed mainly to launch communication satellites.
2. Satellites launched by PSLV appear to remain permanently fixed in the same position in the sky, as viewed from a particular location on Earth.
3. GSLV Mk III is a four-stage launch vehicle with the first and third stages using solid rocket motors; and the second and fourth stages using liquid rocket engines.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only
B. 2 and 3
C. 1 and 2
D. 3 only
Answer: A
2. India's first human space mission "Gaganyaan" will be launched in which year? (ESIC UDC 2022)
A. 2022          B. 2023          C. 2024          D. 2025      E.  2026
Answer: B
3. Find the incorrect statements, about the Gaganyaan Mission of India. (MPSC 2020)
1. Four pilots from Indian Air Force were shortlisted to be astronauts of Gaganyaan.
2. They will be trained at Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Centre in Russia.
3. This mission was announced by Prime Minister in 2014.
4. It is scheduled for 2022 with a team of 5 crew members and a month-long stay in space.
A. 1, 2, 3, 4     B.  2, 3, 4           C. 3, 4          D. 2, 3
Answer: C
4. ISRO is related to: (SSC JE EE 2020)
A. space research      B. agricultural research          C. seed research          D. marine research Answer: A

5.  Which of the following pairs is/are correctly matched? (UPSC 2014)

Spacecraft                                    Purpose

  1. Cassini-Huygens:                  Orbiting the Venus and transmitting data to the Earth
  2. Messenger:                             Mapping and investigating the Mercury
  3. Voyager 1 and 2:                    Exploring the outer solar system

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only         (b) 2 and 3 only          (c) 1 and 3 only          (d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: B

6. Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2016)

The Mangalyaan launched by ISRO

1. is also called the Mars Orbiter Mission
2. made India the second country to have a spacecraft orbit the Mars after USA
3. made India the only country to be successful in making its spacecraft orbit the Mars in its very first attempt

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only        (b) 2 and 3 only          (c) 1 and 3 only            (d) 1, 2 and 3

Answer: C

Source: The Hindu

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