China’s Chang’e 4 mission lands on Moon’s far side
The China National Space Administration successfully soft-landed a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon, a historic first in lunar exploration.
China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft touched down in the 110-mile (180 kilometer) wide Von Karman crater, located in the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin some 45 degrees south latitude. Unlike the live coverage of NASA’ InSight Mars lander, the landing of China’s Chang’e 4 spacecraft took place in near secrecy.
Launched on Dec. 7, 2018, the lander/rover combo entered orbit around the Moon several days later on Dec. 12. In order to communicate with the spacecraft, China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao in May 2018. It resides in a halo orbit at the Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point some 38,000 miles (61,000 kilometers) behind the Moon.
According to Chinese media, the official touchdown time was 9:26 p.m. EST Jan. 2 (02:26 GMT Jan. 3), 2019, following a nearly vertical 12-minute descent. Not long after, the first photos from the lunar far side’s surface were published.
Hours later, 310-pound (140-kilogram), newly-dubbed Yutu-2 rover was rolled off the 2,600-pound (1,200 kilogram) lander and onto the surface. Yutu means “Jade Rabbit.”
The Chang’e 4 mission has several science objectives. Over the course of its planned three-month prime mission, the lander and rover are expected to measure the surface temperatures and chemical compositions of the surrounding rocks and soil. Moreover, some radio astronomy observations are set to be made as well as cosmic ray and solar corona research performed.
The lander is powered by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, similar to devices on NASA’s Curiosity rover and New Horizons spacecraft, and sports several cameras, a low-frequency spectrometer, a neutron dosimeter, as well as a “biosphere” with seeds and insect eggs.
According to Chinese news outlet Xinhua, a container with seeds of potato and arabidopsis, as well as silkworm eggs, are aboard to perform the first biological experiment on the Moon.
Designed by 28 Chinese universities, the container also holds water, a nutrient solution, air and other equipment to transmit images of any potential blossoming to Earth.
“We have to keep the temperature in the ‘mini biosphere’ within a range from 1 degree to 30 degrees [34 degrees to 86 degrees Fahrenheit], and properly control the humidity and nutrition,” Xinhua reported Xie Gengxin, chief designer of the experiment, as saying in April 2018. “We will use a tube to direct the natural light on the surface of Moon into the tin to make the plants grow.”
When attempts to grow those plants will begin is not yet known.
The Yutu-2 rover is solar powered and will be unable to power itself during each two-week lunar night. Attached to it are a panoramic camera for video and image transmission, a ground penetrating radar, a visible and near-infrared imaging spectrometer, as well as an energetic neutral atom analyzer to study how solar wind interacts with the lunar regolith.
The mission is a follow-up to the Chang’e 3 mission, which landed on the near side of the Moon in December 2013.
Following Chang’e 4, Chang’e 5 is expected to launch as early as December 2019 to perform a sample return mission. If successful, it would be the first returned pieces of the Moon since the Soviet Luna 24 in 1976.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.