Spaceflight Insider

China to attempt first landing on far side of Moon in 2018

Yutu-rover on the surface of the Moon CNSA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

China’s Yutu rover on the surface of the Moon. Photo Credit: CNSA

China recently specified its lunar exploration plans, announcing that the nation will soft-land a probe on the far side of the Moon in 2018. If successful, the country will become the first nation to land a spacecraft on the part of the lunar hemisphere that is invisible from Earth.

China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) has revealed that the planned Chang’e-4 mission will consist of a lander, a rover, and a relay satellite. Liu Jizhong, chief of the lunar exploration center under SASTIND, added that the mission will be very similar to the Chang’e-3 mission in terms of structure, but it would be able to handle more payload.

Artist's concept of the Chang'e-4 lunar lander.

Artist’s concept of the Chang’e-4 lunar lander. Image Credit: CNSA

Chang’e-4 will probably be launched by China’s workhorse Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, located in Sichuan Province.

The mission will study dust features as ell as their formation mechanisms, perform in-situ (on site) measurement of lunar surface residual magnetism and study its interaction with the solar wind. The far side of the Moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low-frequency radio study, according to Zou Yongliao from the Moon exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The proposed relay satellite will be launched into a lunar transfer orbit earlier than the lander and rover, and it will enter and run in a Halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrangian point, located about 37,282 miles (60,000 km) beyond the Moon. This is considered to be the best location for a communications satellite covering Moon’s far side.

The satellite would provide relay service for the lander, the rover, and ground controllers back on Earth who would direct the mission’s exploration efforts. It is expected to be operational for approximately three years. It will be crucial for China to develop technologies of lunar data relay for further missions.

China has suggested that it intends to cooperate with other nations over Chang’e-4 as it has sent invitations to foreign countries in early 2015. Participants could launch their own lunar probes as a secondary payload. They could also provide some scientific payloads or other, small experimental equipment which will be carried by the lander, rover, or satellite.

Chang’e-4 is perceived as the next important step for China towards eventual crewed missions to the Moon. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the country’s premier space launch vehicle manufacturer, has recently announced a super-large interstage ring to be used to connect stages of the next-generation Long March 9 rocket, expected to embark on its maiden flight around 2030. The booster could play a key role in sending taikonauts to the Moon. Chang’e-4’s detailed study of the lunar environment will play an essential role in the preparation these future crewed missions.

The country is also developing the Chang’e-5 lunar probe to finish the planned last chapter in China’s three-step lunar exploration program, consisting of orbiting, landing, and return. The mission is expected to achieve several breakthroughs, including automatic sampling, ascending from the Moon without a launch site, and an automated docking above the lunar surface. Chang’e-5 will be launched around 2017.

After the success of the Chang’e-3 mission, China became the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to soft-land a spacecraft on lunar soil. The probe that landed on the Moon in December of 2013 is still sending messages back to Earth.

With the launch of the Belintersat-1 satellite for Belarus on Friday, Jan. 15, China started a very busy year in terms of sending payloads to orbit. In 2016, the country intends to carry out more than 20 space missions.

China also has also stated its plans to return to the business of human space flight this year as well as to conduct the maiden launches of the next-generation Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets. Shenzhou-11, a planned crewed mission, is slated to lift off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and dock with China’s second planned space station, Tiangong-2, which should be on orbit by the time the crew’s Shenzhou spacecraft is sent aloft. The exact launch dates for these missions have yet to be released.


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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