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Pakistan’s iCube-Qamar Satellite Successfully Launches Aboard China’s Chang’e-6 Lunar Mission

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Pakistan’s iCube Qamar satellite, a significant technological achievement for the country, will be orbiting the moon for the first time as part of China’s historic Chang’e-6 lunar mission. This mission, which launched from Hainan, China on Friday, aims to explore the ‘dark side’ of the moon and will employ lunar research payloads from multiple countries. The Institute of Space Technology (IST) revealed that Pakistan’s historic lunar module iCube-Q, designed by IST in collaboration with China’s Shanghai University (SJTU) and Pakistan’s national space agency Suparco, will be aboard Chang’e-6. The mission aims to collect around two kilograms of lunar samples from the far side of the moon and bring them back to Earth for analysis, and is named after the mythical Chinese moon goddess.

Chang’e-6, a mission of unprecedented significance in the history of human lunar exploration, is set to collect samples from the far side of the moon for the first time. Ge Ping, vice director of China’s Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center, announced this groundbreaking mission. China will send a robotic spacecraft in the coming days on a round trip to the moon’s far side in the first of three technically demanding missions that will pave the way for an inaugural Chinese crewed landing and a base on the lunar south pole. 

Chang’e-6, in its 53-day mission, faces a unique challenge. It must rely on a recently deployed relay satellite orbiting the moon as it has no direct line of sight with the Earth, a feat never-before-attempted. Payloads from France, Italy, Sweden and Pakistan are being carried on Chang’e-6, while Chang’e-7 will bear payloads from Russia, Switzerland and Thailand when it launches in 2026. NASA is banned by US law from any collaboration, direct or indirect, with China. 

China has heavily invested in its space programme over the last decade, targeting a string of ambitious undertakings to close the gap with the two traditional space powers – the United States and Russia. The country has notched several notable achievements, including building a space station called Tiangong, or “heavenly palace”, to which it sent a fresh crew of three astronauts last month. China has landed robotic rovers on Mars and the moon and made China the third country to independently put humans in orbit. It aims to send a crewed mission to the moon by 2030, with further plans to build a base on the lunar surface.

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