China's Chang'e-8 Mission Will Try to Make Bricks on the Moon

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has put out a call for international and industry partners to contribute science payloads to its Chang’e-8 lunar lander, set for launch to the Moon in 2028. The mission, which will involve a lander, a rover, and a utility robot, will be China’s first attempt at in-situ resource utilization on the Moon, using lunar regolith to produce brick-like building materials.

Just like NASA’s Artemis plans, the CNSA’s plans for the Moon are targeted at the Lunar south pole, which is expected to be rich in useable resources, especially water. The presence of these resources will be vital for long-term human activity on the lunar surface.

Possible landing sites for Chang’e-8 include Leibnitz Beta, Amundsen crater, Cabeus crater, and the ridge connecting the Shackleton and de Gerlache craters, according to a presentation by Chang’e-8 chief deputy designer in October 2023.

Chang’e-8 will be the last CNSA robotic mission to be launched before construction begins on the International Lunar Research Station, China’s crewed moonbase being planned in collaboration with Russia’s Roscosmos. That makes Chang’e-8’s attempt to create building materials out of regolith a vital proof-of-concept for their lunar aspirations.

In order to make moon-bricks, the lander will carry an instrument that uses solar energy to melt lunar soil and turn it into useable parts at a speed of 40 cubic cm per hour.

Alongside the regolith processing equipment, the lander will be equipped with an array of science instruments, including cameras, a seismometer to detect moonquakes, and an x-ray telescope. Part of the mission will focus on moon-based Earth observation, with several instruments designed to monitor Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere.

The rover, meanwhile, will carry ground penetrating radar, cameras, a mineral analyzer, and tools for collecting and storing samples (leaving open the possibility of future missions to retrieve the samples).

The utility robot is a key piece of the mission, but CNSA isn’t developing it in-house. Instead, the space agency is seeking proposals from partners interested in developing it as a piggyback payload to ride alongside the rest of Chang’e-8.

According to the call for proposals, the 100kg, battery-powered robot will need to be able to “capture, carry and place items, shovel, and transfer lunar soil.” It will also need to be able to travel at 400m per hour.

There is room for an additional 100kg of piggyback payloads besides the robot, for which full proposals are expected to be submitted later this year.

While planning for Chang’e 8 is ongoing, the CNSA has two additional robotic moon missions in the works for the near future. The first, Chang’e-6, will launch this spring, and aims to return a regolith sample from the lunar far side (a never before accomplished feat). The next mission is planned for 2026, when Chang’e-7 will carry out a geological examination of the permanently shadowed craters scattered around the Moon’s south pole.