China's ambitious blueprint: Chang'e-7 seeks lunar water

China outlines its plans to analyze and study water-ice on the Moon as part of the Chang'e-7 mission poised to launch in 2026.
Amal Jos Chacko
Representational image of the moon's surface..jpg
Representational image of the moon's surface.


China has been ambitious in its space exploration ventures, and its latest endeavor aims to unlock the secrets of the moon's water-ice. 

In a recent study published in Space: Science & Technology— a peer-reviewed journal— researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese National Space Administration outline their lunar exploration plans.

With the upcoming Chang’e-7 mission, poised to launch in 2026, they aim to identify the location, quantity, and dispersion of water-ice in the moon’s permanently-shadowed regions (PSRs) at the lunar south pole.

A robotic trio

The Chang'e-7 orbiter will play a crucial role in this scientific endeavor by conducting remote sensing observations using a suite of advanced instruments, reports Universe Today

Upon reaching lunar orbit, the orbiter will deploy a lander and a game-changing addition to lunar exploration—a mini-flying probe. This probe will be designed with the capability to fly from sunlit regions on the lunar south pole to the dark, frozen depths of impact craters within the PSRs. 

Unlike conventional lunar rovers, the mini-flying probe will be able to explore once inaccessible regions, making it a key asset in the search for lunar water-ice.

Equipped with a drilling tool, mechanical arm, and a heating furnace to conduct spectral analyses of lunar water-ice, the mini-flying probe will attempt to identify water, ammonia, and other volatiles in the depths of these PSR craters.

The promise of lunar water-ice

The hunt for lunar water-ice is driven by its potential to revolutionize space exploration and establish a sustained human presence on the moon. 

When combined with in-situ resource utilization (ISRU), lunar water-ice could significantly reduce the need for constant resupply from Earth, leading to significant savings, especially in cost, time, and resources. 

Furthermore, the presence of lunar water-ice holds promise for future deep space exploration, particularly human missions to Mars.

Currently, several PSR impact craters are targets for water-ice exploration, with Shackleton Crater being a noteworthy mention. Despite its bottom being in the dark for billions of years, portions of Shackleton’s interiors were recently captured in high resolution by NASA’s ShadowCam.

NASA's Artemis program is a testament to the United States' commitment to lunar exploration. Scheduled for 2025, the Artemis III mission aims to land the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface. 

Like China, NASA too has its sights set on the lunar south pole, with 13 potential candidate landing sites identified for now. Both nations' lunar ambitions converge in the pursuit of understanding our celestial neighbor and laying the groundwork for the exploration of even more distant destinations.

The Chang'e-7 mission's success could propel humanity into a new era of lunar exploration, opening the doors to a sustainable lunar presence and paving the way for ambitious missions to Mars and beyond. 

China’s lunar exploration ventures continue beyond Chang’e-7, with its successor, the Chang’e-8 to be launched in 2028, aiming to study the utilization of lunar resources and build a model of the International Lunar Research Station.

Study Abstract

Since the 1990s, the existence of water-ice in the permanent shadow areas of the lunar polar regions and the problem of water in the early lunar period have become the hot spot of international lunar exploration. This paper analyzes the research progress and existing problems of lunar water-ice detection in recent years. Based on the analysis of expected foreign lunar water-ice exploration missions, the major scientific problems of lunar water-ice are analyzed. From different exploration methods, this paper tentatively puts forward the scientific tasks, payload configuration, functional requirements, and possible scientific outputs of water-ice in China's future lunar exploration projects, which can provide reference for future lunar exploration missions.

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