Chinese probe heads for far side of the moon

Eloise Marshall
December 8, 2018

XICHANG, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) - China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe was launched in the early hours of Saturday, and it is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon.

Expected to land in January, Chang'e-4 will be the world's first spacecraft to land on the side of the moon that faces away from Earth. The far side is a far more rugged and mountainous surface than the well-studied near side of the Moon.

Chang'e-4 will land inside the moon's oldest, biggest, and deepest impact structure, the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin.

In addition to studying Von Karman Crater's surface with spectrometers and ground-penetrating radar, Chang'e-4 will measure the solar wind, make low-frequency radio astronomy observations and monitor cosmic rays from a side of the moon that doesn't experience earthly interference.

No lander or rover has ever touched the surface there, positioning China as the first nation to explore the terrain.

China launched the relay satellite "Queqiao", meaning Magpie Bridge, on May 21 to set up the communication link between the earth and the moon's far side.

It may also carry plant seeds and silkworm eggs, according to Xinhua.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

"The main thing about this mission is not science, this is a technology mission", he said.

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The other 40 per cent of the moon's surface, which comprises the far side, has thus been seen in images taken by spacecraft, including lunar orbiters.

The Chang'e-4 mission will be a key step in revealing the mysterious far side of the moon.

During the lunar night - which lasts 14 earth days - temperatures will drop as low as minus 173C, while during the lunar day, also lasting 14 earth days, temperatures rocket as high as 127C.

The rover´s instruments must withstand those fluctuations and it must generate enough energy to sustain it during the long night.

China has promoted worldwide cooperation in its lunar exploration program, with four scientific payloads of the Chang'e-4 mission developed by scientists from Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

There's more to come: Next year, China is due to launch its Chang'e-5 mission to collect a 4.4-pound (2-kilogram) sample of lunar soil from the Oceanus Procellarum region and return it to Earth. China has promoted global cooperation in its lunar exploration program, with four scientific payloads in the Chang'e-4 mission developed by scientists from the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

It would also like to develop a moon base through several manned missions.

The project, he said in an interview with local website Netease, "greatly inspires everyone´s national pride and self-confidence".

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