A Chinese craft carrying samples of material from the dark side of the Moon has touched down on Earth.

Chang’e 6 is a lunar lander and sample return mission that landed on the far side of the Moon within the South Pole Aitken Basin.

It launched on 3 May 2024 on a Long March 5 booster from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center and should return its samples today (25 June 2024).

You can watch coverage of the reentry here:

Chang’e 6 reached the Moon and went orbit on 8 May 8. It slowly circularised the orbit over time. It also released the ICUBE-Q cubesat into lunar orbit on 8 May.

Chang’e 6 orbited for 20 days to find an appropriate landing site. The lander then separated from the orbiter. After a roughly 15 minute landing sequence, landing took place on 1 June 1 in the southern part of the Apollo crater.

The mission objective was to collect about 2 kg of material from the far side of the Moon and bring it back to Earth.

A scoop and drill were used in order to obtain samples from the surface and from as deep as 2 meters below the surface. The samples were placed in the ascent vehicle, which was mounted on top of the lander.

A small rover was also deployed, which drove a short distance on the lunar surface and took pictures of the Chang’e 6 lander.

The ascent vehicle launched from the Moon on 3 June, bringing the samples to lunar orbit.

The ascender docked with the Chang’e 6 orbiter-return vehicle on June 6, and transferred the samples into the return vehicle.

The ascender was released to impact the lunar surface, and the orbiter-return vehicle left orbit about June 21.

The landing used an atmospheric skip re-entry to touch down in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region early this morning.