China has launched a rover destined for the dark side of the moon, which will be a world-first if successful.
The rover was launched on a Long March 3B vehicle from the southwestern Xichang launch centre at around 2:23 am Saturday morning local time, or 5:23 am Sunday AEDT.
Chang’e-4 is the most recent mission in the Chinese lunar exploration program, following Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 reaching lunar orbit in 2007 and 2010, and Chang’e-3’s successful landing and exploration in 2013.
The rover’s successful launch follows the May 2018 launch of the Queqiao (‘Magpie Bridge’) communications satellite into lunar orbit for relaying data and communications between Earth and the moon’s far side, as there is no ‘line of sight’ for direct communications.
According to state media, Chang’e-4 is being sent to the Aitken Basin region in the mountainous lunar south pole region, with the relatively smooth Von Kármán crater as the planned landing site.
The mission is one of a series of lofty ambitions for China’s military-led space program, including a super-heavy lift vehicle of greater payload capacity than SpaceX and NASA’s, a reusable launch vehicle by 2021, a Mars rover, a permanently crewed space station and a moon base.
The lander will carry a German-developed radiation instrument, the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND), landing and terrain cameras, and a Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS), as well as a biosphere experiment to test respiration and photosynthesis on the lunar surface.
Like its predecessor, this rover will also carry a lunar penetrating radar, capable of penetrating 500 metres below the surface of the thicker, older crust of the moon’s far side, A Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS) and Advanced Small Analyzer for Neutrals (ASAN).
Chang’e-5’s launch is currently planned for next year, and that lunar lander will collect samples to bring back to Earth.
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