Chang’e-6 mission illustrates France-China space cooperation


China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission is underway. It is attempting to achieve a world-first in returning the first samples back to Earth from the far side of the Moon.

There are instruments on the spacecraft from a number of different countries. An Italian laser is on-board, along with a Swedish apparatus to measure negative ions, plus a Pakistani ice detector.

‌France’s contribution to the mission is its DORN instrument to detect radon gas and to study the transport of lunar dust.

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission is underway. /CCTV

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar mission is underway. /CCTV

One area where both countries have deepened their ties is science, and the subject came up when both presidents held talks in Paris on May 6, on the first full day of Xi Jinping’s state visit to France.

During his visit to China last year, French President Emmanuel Macron was presented with 1.5 grams of moon dust that had been brought to Earth by China’s previous Chang’e-5 mission.

President Xi’s gift underlined the importance both countries place on space missions and scientific research.

These tiny grains have huge potential in helping answer major questions about space.

“Trying to understand how the solar system formed is effectively still an open question,” said Jean Duprat, a research director at the French Natural History Museum. “We know the general outline of how it happened but there are still lots of unanswered questions.

He added: “It’s the study of extraterrestrial material that allows us to respond to many of the questions.”

In 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron was presented with 1.5 grams of moon dust. /CGTN

In 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron was presented with 1.5 grams of moon dust. /CGTN


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Scientific researchers in France are trying to better understand the history of the Moon.‌ They have been able to rely on international ventures, like China’s Chang’e missions, to aid their work.

“We are lucky that we already have some samples from the Moon from American missions with Apollo and now from the Chinese mission with the Chang’e mission with meteorites,” said Ferederic Moynier, a cosmochemistry professor in Paris.

“We have a better understanding than before on ‘how did the Moon form?’ and ‘why do we have a satellite?'”

France has a crucial role in getting Europe’s rockets airborne as they are launched from its overseas territory of French Guiana in South America.

Europe’s new heavy-lift rocket is expected to take off this summer but Ariane 6 is four years behind schedule.

The Chang’e-6 mission is not the only space launch this year on which China and France have been working together. The Space Variable Objects Monitor, or SVOM, will use small telescopes to study the most distant explosions of stars.

It is the second satellite jointly developed by China and France. In 2018, the two countries launched a probe to examine interactions between the oceans and the atmosphere.

The new SVOM spacecraft will launch in June.

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