Monday, September 14, 2015

Chinese Chang'e-4 to Be the First Probe to Land on the Moon's Far Side

Chinese Yutu rover on the moon. Credit: CNSA

China, after becoming the third country that landed a probe on the moon, has an appetite for lunar firsts. The Chinese government has decided to start the development of the Chang’e-4 mission, a successor of Chang’e-3, which successfully landed on the lunar surface in December 2013. The new spacecraft should be launched by 2020 and it would be the first probe to land on the far side of the moon.

"China will be the first to complete the task if it is successful," said Zou Yongliao from the moon exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences at a deep-space exploration forum held on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

According to Yongliao, the goal of Chang’e-4 will be to study geologic conditions and low frequency radio waves. The far side of the moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low frequency radio study.

“If we can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void,” he said.

Chang'e-4 would be very similar to its predecessor in structure but it could handle more payload. The mission will include a lunar lander and rover. The potential landing spots include the Aitken Basin, a huge impact crater 1,600 miles in diameter and 8.1 miles deep.

"We probably will choose a site that is more difficult to land and more technically challenging. Other countries have chosen to land on the near side of the moon. Our next move probably will see some spacecraft land on the far side of the moon," chief lunar exploration engineer Wu Weiren said in May this year.

China also plans to launch its Chang'e-5 lunar probe around 2017 to finish the last chapter in China's orbiting, landing and return moon exploration program. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to return samples from the moon.

Chang'e-5 could achieve several breakthroughs, including automatic sampling, ascending from the moon without a launch site and an unmanned docking 250,000 miles above the lunar surface.

China's lunar exploration program, named Chang'e after a mythical goddess, has already launched a pair of orbiting lunar probes, and in 2013 landed a craft on the moon with a rover onboard, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit. It made China the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to soft land a spacecraft on lunar soil.

China also mulls a possible manned mission to the moon.

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