China prepares mission to land spacecraft on moon's far side

China prepares mission to land spacecraft on moon's far side

Beijing is preparing to launch the Chang'e 4 mission early Saturday to soft-land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon.

Sources including journalist Andrew Jones, who covers China's space program, report that the launch is now set for around 1:20 p.m. ET Friday from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China using a Long March 3B rocket. So far, the spacecraft appears to be in good health.

This mission, besides being a major first for the China National Space Administration, aims to explore and study both the surface and subsurface of the lunar region. Whenever it occurs, the seven-step landing process-which will be entirely autonomous-will last just 11 minutes from the deorbit burn to touching down on the surface. It will serve as a communicator for the Chang'e 4, relaying signals back to Earth.

The complex crater, as the scientists hope, might even provide insight into Moon's upper mantle materials. "The landing area, the South Pole-Aitken basin, is the oldest basin on the moon, meaning that we could get first-hand information about the distant past of the moon". The crater experiences about 14 days of sunlight with average temperatures up to 110 degrees Celsius, before plummeting to some -173 degrees C for about 14 days of night. Back in 2013, the Chang'e-3 landed on the surface, which was followed by the announcement of a moon base. The two missions are nearly identical in design; the former was originally built as a backup for the latter.

Leonard David, a space industry expert wrote on Space.com that, "The spacecraft will also perform radio-astronomical studies that, because the far side always faces away from Earth, will be free from interference from our planet's ionosphere, human-made radio frequencies and auroral radiation noise".

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Chang'e 4 features a total of eight scientific instruments. "A farside landing is a big deal, because nobody's ever done it", says Roger Launius, NASA's former chief historian.

Why does this side never show itself to Earth?

To solve the problem, China in May launched a relay satellite, Queqiao, between the Earth and the moon. This time, however, the agency said that it wants to establish permanent settlements on the lunar surface. The rover will measure the subsurface layer leveraging its ground-penetrating radar.

Other instruments will study the interaction between the moon and the solar wind and keep a digital eye out for possible water.

Besides, the CNAS is also planning to launch the Chang'e-5 next year. Its program also suffered a rare setback a year ago with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket. "Chang'e 4" to put a robot vehicle near the South pole of the moon where the Rover will then explore starts.

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