China launches pioneering mission to far side of moon

08 Décembre, 2018, 17:20 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • China launches pioneering mission to far side of moon

If successful, the mission - scheduled to blast off aboard a Long March 3B rocket early on Saturday - would propel the Chinese space programme to a leading position in one of the most important areas of lunar exploration.

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.

Chang'e-4's target landing spot was described in a research report led by scientists from the China University of Geosciences and published earlier this year.

Chang'e 4 rover and lander models produced by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation on display on the first day of the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in November.

The powerful impact that created the South Pole Aitken Basin may have punched through the crust down to the Moon's mantle layer.

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. It will carry a robotic lander and rover to the moon's unexplored South Pole-Aitken basin, the largest and deepest impact crater in the solar system.

"The design of the Chang'e 4 lunar rover has been improved based on the previous one, meaning it could work for at least a few years on the moon", Wu Weiren, chief designer of the CLEP, said in August.

Its plan to soft-land Chang'e 4 on the far side of the moon is challenging because any direct communications between the Earth and the rover once it is there will be blocked by the other hemisphere, scientists have said. Chang'e 4 is meant to land in the 186-kilometer-wide Von Kármán Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the moon; the latter feature is the moon's largest-known impact crater at about 2,500 kilometers across.

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In anticipation of the launch, China sent their Queqiao relay satellite into space this past May.

Onboard the Chang'e 4 mission is a suite of instruments primed for a diverse series of scientific studies. The landers' are called the Landing Camera (LCAM), the Terrain Camera (TCAM), the Low Frequency Spectrometer (LFS), and the Lunar Lander Neutrons and Dosimetry (LND), which was provided by Germany.

The rover will carry a panoramic camera; a radar to probe beneath the lunar surface; an imaging spectrometer to identify minerals; and an experiment to examine the interaction of the solar wind (a stream of energised particles from the Sun) with the lunar surface. For example, the LFS will return data about surface composition, while the LPR will tease out the layered structure of the moon's subsurface. The mission also includes the first radio astronomy experiments, reported Scientific American.

It may also carry plant seeds and silkworm eggs, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Researchers will keep tabs on how these organisms live and develop on the lunar surface.

The nation launched the Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 spacecraft to lunar orbit in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

The rover is actually the original backup to China's Jade Rabbit rover that landed on the moon in 2013; it has since been repurposed for this more ambitious mission. The goal is to land on the floor of the Von Karman Crater, a particularly deep lunar crater.

One reason no attempt has ever been made to visit the distant side of the moon is that the lack of a line of sight makes direct communications with a spacecraft hard. Chang'e 5 is due to launch in December 2019.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, making it only the third country after Russian Federation and the U.S.to do so.

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