China Plans to Go a Step Further than U.S. and Russia in Space: Land On the Dark Side of the Moon

China’s first lunar probe, Chang’e I, lifts off from its launch pad in Xichang, Sichuan province, in 2007. (Photograph: Getty Images)
China’s first lunar probe, Chang’e I, lifts off from its launch pad in Xichang, Sichuan province, in 2007. (Photograph: Getty Images)

This time next year, there may be a new world leader in lunar exploration. If all goes according to plan, China will have done something no other space-faring superpower has been able to do: land on the far side of the moon. China is rocketing ahead with its plans for lunar exploration. In 2018, they will launch a pair of missions known collectively as Chang’e 4. It is the fourth mission in a series named after the Chinese moon goddess.

The first component of Chang’e 4 is scheduled to lift off in June. It will be a relay satellite stationed some 60,000km behind the moon and will provide a communications link between Earth and the lunar far side. Once this link is established, it will allow China to send the second part of the mission: a lander to the far side’s surface.

Landing on the far side of the moon is something no one has tried before. “The Chinese are pushing back the frontier with such a technically challenging mission,” says Brian Harvey, space analyst and author of China in Space: The Great Leap Forward.

China’s lunar exploration programme started in 2007 with Chang’e 1, a simple lunar orbiter. In 2010, Chang’e 2 also went into lunar orbit before setting off for a trek across the solar system that culminated in a flyby of asteroid Toutatis in 2012.

In 2013 Chang’e 3, deploying the Jade Rabbit rover, made headlines for the first soft landing on the moon since 1976. So far, so impressive, but all China had done was catch up with the achievements of the US and USSR. Chang’e 4, however, will be a space first.

Nobody has landed on the far side of the moon, mainly because of the communications difficulty. Yet the scientific payoff is huge. Being in the shadow of the moon allows stray radio signals from Earth to be blocked so the view of the radio universe is unparalleled.

Heino Falcke, Radboud University, Nijmegen, is hoping to take full advantage of this by supplying a radio telescope to the Chinese mission. His aim is to test how easy it will be to pick up signals from the early universe before there were any stars.

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SOURCE: Stuart Clark
The Guardian