Space snippets: First Chang’e samples, Starship ‘lands’, Starliner docks

Chang’e 6 samples go to space

Reports from China indicate the Chang’e 6 mission is heading back to Earth with 2kg in rock samples taken from the far side of the Moon.

The samples have been returned to the Chang’e 6 orbital module which is expected to parachute into China’s northern deserts on June 25 where the China National Space Administration will retrieve the capsule and pry open its sample canister.

The samples are expected to be volcanic in nature, but as none have ever been retrieved from the Moon’s far side, scientists are eagerly awaiting the chance to get their hands on samples.

When NASA brought dust samples back from the Bennu asteroid it took them months to open the canister.

Starship ‘lands’ in ocean splashdown

SpaceX’s Starship has successfully soft-landed in the Indian Ocean, a vital milestone for Elon Musk’s spacefaring company.

This fourth integrated test flight of Starship was the first to see the rocket successfully recovered. On the previous three tests the ship either disintegrated in space or was destroyed by SpaceX after launch.

Despite the loss of surface tiles and some damage to one of Starship’s forward flaps on re-entry, the ocean landing is a crucial step for SpaceX. The company is contracted to deliver a modified Starship as the landing vehicle for NASA’s upcoming Artemis III mission, which will return astronauts to the Moon’s surface.

That requires SpaceX to progress from successful ocean splashdowns to safe terrain landings in a series of tests.

Posting on his social media platform X, Musk said “a newer version of Starship has the forward flaps shifted leeward [downwind]. This will help improve reliability, ease of manufacturing and payload to orbit”.

Boeing Starliner finally docks with ISS

Astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams boarded the International Space Station following the successful launch of Boeing’s Starliner space capsule on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket earlier this week.

Beset by delays after faults were detected on both the Starliner capsule and the ULA rocket and launch sequence, the crew flight test finally launched on Wednesday 5 June just before midday local time.

The vehicle, which is effectively a space taxi designed to ferry astronauts between the ISS and Earth’s surface, docked with the station at 1.34pm USEDT on Thursday, with the astronauts boarding about two hours later. They will spend a week on the ISS before returning to Earth.

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