China has launched a historic space mission to the dark side of the Moon. On Friday, a Long March rocket carrying the Chang’e-4 lunar lander took off from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southern China. The mission, if all goes as planned, would mark the first time a rover has landed on the far side of the…
The mission, if all goes as planned, would mark the first time a rover has landed on the far side of the Moon.
It demonstrates Beijing’s growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russia, the European Union and the US.
Join Indpendent Minds
For exclusive articles, events and an advertising-free read for £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
Get the best of The Independent
With an Independent Minds subscription for just £5.99 €6.99 $9.99 a month
With its Chang’e 4 mission, China hopes to be the first country to make a soft landing, which is a landing of a spacecraft during which no serious damage is incurred.
The moon’s far side is also known as the dark side because it faces away from Earth and remains comparatively unknown. It has a different composition than sites on the near side, where previous missions have landed.
If successful, the mission would propel the Chinese space program to a leading position in one of the most important areas of lunar exploration.
According to Global Times, the launch, which took place at about 2.23am local time in China, was successful.
Although there is no exact date planned for arrival, the rocket, carrying a lander and a lunar rover, is expected to reach its destination of Von Kármán crater in early January.
The crater, located on the side of the Moon facing away from Earth, is an area of interest within the South Pole-Aitken Basin.
Upon its arrival, Chang’e-4 will use a variety of instruments including cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers to analyse and identify rocks and dirt in the area, according to the New York Times.
Seeds have also been sent as part of an experiment to see if it is possible for living things to grow on the Moon.
To communicate with the rover once it reaches its destination, scientists will rely on the Queqiao satellite, which was launched in May of this year.
The mission, which would offer the first up-close view of the far side of the Moon, is part of China’s increasing investment in lunar exploration.
The rover’s design is based on the Chang’e-3 craft, which soft-landed on the Moon in 2013 – the first rover to do so since 1976.
Chang’e-5 and 6 will be the next steps for China, with the goal of bringing back samples from the Moon.
China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russia and the US to do so. It has put a pair of space stations into orbit, one of which is still operating as a precursor to a more than 60-ton station that is due to come online in 2022. The launch of a Mars rover is planned for the mid-2020s.
Additional reporting by agencies