Spaceflight Insider

China’s Chang’e 4 mission lands on Moon’s far side

Following the successful landing of the Chang'e 4 lander, the Yutu-2 rover rolled onto the surface of Von Karman crater on the far side of the Moon. Photo Credit: CNSA

Following the successful landing of the Chang’e 4 lander, the Yutu-2 rover rolled onto the surface of Von Karman crater on the far side of the Moon. Photo Credit: CNSA

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.

An artist's rendering of the Queqiao spacecraft acting as a relay satellite for the Chang'e 4 lander/rover combo. Image Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

An artist’s rendering of the Queqiao spacecraft acting as a relay satellite for the Chang’e 4 lander/rover combo. Image Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

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.

Reader Comments

James Lunar Miner

“The geopolitical challenge of the first half of the 21st century is stark: how to prevent the U.S.-China cold war from going hot.”

From: “A New Cold War Has Begun
The United States and China will be locked in a contest for decades.”
By Robert D. Kaplan January 7, 2019

China is headed to the Moon to mine and use its resources. And today China is trying to grow plants in a robotic “biosphere” on the far side of the Moon.

Whomever efficiently mines and uses the resources of the Moon will have the critical resources and capabilities for maintaining a clear political and military leadership in Cislunar Space.

Meanwhile American space cadets are still believing in and gabbing as if we’re soon going to have colonies on Mars despite the obvious fact that:

“The much vaunted Mars program of the Obama Administration was a ‘Potemkin Program’, all PowerPoint, no hardware.”

From: “The struggle for a practical cislunar transportation system” By John Strickland January 7, 2019

Tough cold war geopolitics and a serious investment in a large and well planned American science and technology program, not a ‘Potemkin’ Mars colonies soon cult, got us to the Moon in 1969 and will put humans and robotic miners permanently on the Moon within the next decade.

The only real question is, “Which nation is going to lead on the Moon and in Cislunar Space?”

Maybe we need Space Cadets and leaders in Congress that are seriously focused on building Lunar mines and infrastructure, or we could instead just gab on about Mars, smoke some great weed, and give up on winning our Cold War II.

James Lunar Miner

China has had some real success in its focus on the Moon and “Chang’e 5 is expected to launch as early as December 2019 to perform a sample return mission.”

China has put two landers and two Yutu rover on the Moon while we’ve argued about cult Mars colonies soon and how many angels can dance on the head of pin and continue to fail in making serious plans to efficiently implement our national security and geopolitical leadership interest in mining and using Lunar resources to develop Cislunar Space.

How could we fail to win our new Cold War on Earth and in space? Let us count the ways.

“And while China’s per capita income remains well below that of a developed country, as measured by purchasing-power parity China has already surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s largest economy. By another measure, market exchange rates, it will probably do so by 2030.”
From: “Cold War II” By Michael Lind May 10, 2018


“The Chinese, like the rest of the world, view the moon and its environs as a next place beyond LEO for humans to explore, and they are serious about investigating the technical requirements and obstacles to achieving a return of humans to the moon.”

And, “China is also in the early stages of development of a super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, the Long March 9, capable of lifting 140 metric tons to low Earth orbit, 50 tons to Earth-moon transfer orbit, and 44 tons to Earth-Mars transfer orbit.”

From: “China developing new launch vehicle for human spaceflight, future moon missions”
By Andrew Jones November 13, 2018

James Lunar Miner

Our narrow thinking political leaders have trouble fully funding our government and defending our borders from drug and people smugglers let alone understanding the importance of building Lunar infrastructure. Maybe too many of our ego bloated and highly partisan politicians failed to study history.

“China’s space strategy involves building a lunar industrial infrastructure for cost-effective access to deep space. The Chang’e 4 is the first step: demonstrating the ability to communicate, land, survey and surveil the location for a future industrial and logistical base. This mission secures China’s access to the resource rich lunar south pole and establishes first presence to exploit space resources, industrialize the moon to build a solar power satellite, and mine the moon and asteroids for their vast wealth.”

And, “Neither the American people nor the U.S. military seems to perceive the significance of what China is doing strategically in the Earth-moon space.”

From: “The new space race pits the U.S. against China. The U.S. is losing badly.”
By Namrata Goswami January 10, 2019

James Lunar Miner

“-2040: The nuclear-powered space shuttle will be built. It will enable large-scale resource exploration in space and mining on asteroids, as well as the building of space solar-power stations. Lu said between 2040 and 2045, a future generation of carrier rockets will be used in longer-term and multiple space trips.”

And, “-2045: China will become an all-round world-leading country in space equipment and technology. By then, it will be able to carry out man-computer coordinated space exploration on a large scale, Wang Liheng, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, told China News Service.”

From: “China aims to be world-leading space power by 2045
By Ma Chi 2017-11-17

For confused Americans and the grossly propellant inefficient fossil fuel rocket enabled Mars colonies soon flat Earth cult folks the building of a much more propellant efficient and cost effective “nuclear-powered space shuttle” and “the building of space solar-power stations” to beam power to our energy hungry and CO2 polluted Home Planet are obviously unworthy impossibilities for our nation and thus China in planning wisely and in putting two Yutu rovers on the Moon is currently clearly ahead in offering the realistic hope that Lunar and asteroid resources and space businesses, science, and technology could provide valuable options for a cleaner and richer future for everyone on the Home Planet.

James Lunar Miner

China is getting ready for human Lunar missions and will use the 93 meter tall Long March 9 that will have a 10 meter diameter core, four 5 meter diameter boosters, and a lift-off mass of about 4,000 metric tons.

“The tentative mission concept would involve launch of a spacecraft on a Long March 9 super heavy-lift launcher — currently in its early phases of development with a first flight planned for 2028-2030 — followed by astronauts launching on the next-generation crew spacecraft atop a Long March 5B. The lunar stack and crewed craft would then rendezvous and dock in low Earth orbit ahead of translunar injection.”

From: “China to launch unmanned test flight of next-generation crewed spacecraft in 2019”
By Andrew Jones October 12, 2018

When China puts a large, 140 metric ton, reusable, and propellant efficient 900+ Isp nuclear thermal rocket powered upper stage (or a huge, 140 metric ton, reusable, and super propellant efficient 3,000 to 14,000+ Isp nuclear or solar electric propulsion system powered upper stage) on a Long March 9 and efficiently and cost effectively dominates missions to the Moon and military satellites in Cislunar Space, we’ll be whining while we repeatedly struggle to refuel with massive amounts of fossil fuel Mr. Elon Musk’s delta-v limited, overweight, grossly propellant inefficient 380 Isp, and CO2 spewing starship/space bomber and fail to win our Cold War II.

James Lunar Miner

China and Russia both have smart nuclear powered spacecraft goals and have the needed nuclear and space technical capabilities and strong geopolitical and business reasons to work hard together to make a real revolution in reusable and very propellant efficient 900 to 14,000+ Isp nuclear propulsion system powered spacecraft happen soon and thus clearly become the dominant national leaders in doing highly propellant efficient and cost effective Lunar and Cislunar Space missions.

Meanwhile, many confused Americans work to shackle NASA’s high Isp spacecraft propulsion options and are instead loudly and foolishly pushing a low 380 Isp fossil fueled, CO2 polluting, overweight, and reusable launcher/starship/space bomber for which we will repeatedly have to do difficult technical contortions in trying to launch massive numbers of low energy fossil fuel tankers to feed its propellant inefficient rocket engines.


“Russia is one of China’s main partners in space cooperation,” he said adding that the two countries held annual meetings devoted to cooperation in space exploration.”

And, “Lunar studies are one of the guidelines in our cooperation,” Li said.

From: “China ready to cooperate with Russia in operating its future orbital station” January 14, 2019

Concerning propellant efficient landings and launches from the Moon, asteroids, and Mars:

“Nuclear thermal propulsion systems (NTR) are based on the heating power of a fission reactor, offering a more efficient propulsion system for thrust in launches and landings than one powered by chemical reactions.”

And for propellant efficient propulsion in space:

“Other space fission reactors for powering space vehicles include the SAFE-400 reactor and the HOMER-15. In 2020, Roscosmos (the Russian Federal Space Agency) plans to launch a spacecraft utilizing nuclear-powered propulsion systems (developed at the Keldysh Research Center), which includes a small gas-cooled fission reactor with 1 MWe.[12][13]”

And, “As of 2010, more than 30 small fission power system nuclear reactors have been sent into space in the Soviet RORSAT satellites, with only one—SNAP-10A—by the US.”

All three quotes from: “Nuclear power in space” Wikipedia:

James Lunar Miner


“TEM (Russian: Транспортно-энергетический модуль, ‘transport and energy unit’, NPPS in English) is a nuclear propulsion spacecraft project between the Russian Keldysh Research Center,[1] NIKIET (Research and Design Institute of Power Engineering) institute[2][3] and Rosatom.”

From: “TEM (nuclear propulsion)” Wikipedia

And who is “Rosatom”?

“Rosatom, (Russian: Росатом, tr. Rosatom, IPA: [rɐsˈatəm]) stylized as ROSATOM and also known as the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, or the Rosatom State Corporation, is a Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow that specializes in nuclear energy. Established in 2007, the organization comprises more than 360 enterprises, including scientific research organizations, the nuclear weapons complex, and the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet.”

And. “Rosatom, (Russian: Росатом, tr. Rosatom, IPA: [rɐsˈatəm]) stylized as ROSATOM and also known as the Rosatom State Nuclear Energy Corporation, the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom, or the Rosatom State Corporation, is a Russian state corporation headquartered in Moscow that specializes in nuclear energy. Established in 2007, the organization comprises more than 360 enterprises, including scientific research organizations, the nuclear weapons complex, and the world’s only nuclear icebreaker fleet.”

And, “According to Sergey Kiriyenko, the ten-year portfolio of orders of Rosatom State Corporation abroad was estimated at more than $100 billion at the end of 2014.[7][10”

From: “Rosatom” Wikipedia

James Lunar Miner

The very confused fossil fueled starship folks may have also missed this:

“On future activities Wu told reporters that China would be involved in the Russian Luna 26 lunar orbiter mission, which would then play a part in potential Chinese lunar South Pole landings.”

And, “As part of a new stage of lunar exploration the Chang’e-7 mission, to launch in the early 2020s, will involve ‘comprehensive exploration of the lunar South Pole,’ including landscape, composition and space environment. Chang’e-8 will continue with existing tasks at the pole but will also test key technologies on the lunar surface, possibly together with international partners.”

From: “Chang’e-4 spacecraft enter lunar nighttime, China planning future missions, cooperation” By Andrew Jones 1/15/2019

James Lunar Miner

“Known as the missile defense review, the document that Trump will unveil marks the first official update to American missile defense doctrine in nine years. It comes as North Korea and Iran make advances in ballistic missile production, and as Russia and China press forward with sophisticated cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles that potentially threaten the security of U.S. forces and allies in Europe and Asia.” 
From: “Pentagon seeks to expand scope and sophistication of U.S. missile defenses”
By Paul Space 1/16/2019

By working together Russia and China clearly have the money, geopolitical interest, and scientific, technical, and nuclear capabilities to build, launch, and fly various types of large, cost effective, and highly propellant efficient 900 to 14,000+ Isp nuclear powered spacecraft that would far outclass the performance of the cult worshiped, overweight, fossil fueled, and grossly propellant inefficient 380 Isp BFR/starship/space bomber that could lead America into becoming a second or third class national power in Low Earth Orbit, Cislunar Space, and on the Moon, asteroids, and Mars.

James Lunar Miner

As we live out our Cold War II on Earth and mine the Moon and continue to develop (and further militarize) Cislunar Space, it would be useful to remember:

“Yet, if the US and China actually decided to engage in a prolonged cold war, the economic consequences – however dire – would be dwarfed by another consequence: a lack of sufficiently strong action to combat climate change.”

And, “As it stands, China produces over 9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, making it the world’s largest emitter. The US comes in a distant second, emitting about 5 billion tonnes annually.”

And, “If these two countries, which together are responsible for 38 per cent of annual global carbon dioxide emissions, are unable to find common ground on climate action, it is all but guaranteed that humanity will miss its last chance to prevent catastrophic global warming.”

From: “As the US and China seek to win the trade war, the whole world could end up the loser on climate change”
By Minxin Pei October 23, 2018

James Lunar Miner

Highly propellant efficient 2,800 Isp to 14,000+ Isp solar or nuclear electric propulsion systems and 900+ Isp nuclear thermal rocket propulsion systems are critical technology enablers for propellant efficiently and cost effectively doing multiple high delta-v commercial and military space dominance missions in Low Earth Orbit and in the rest of Cislunar Space.

Note also:

“For example, future satellite servicing and recycling incorporate a variety of technologies, such as robotic arms to inspect, repair, or dispose of damaged satellites. The same technologies have ‘inherent counterspace capabilities that could be used to inspect non-consenting satellites or to cause physical damage.’”

From: “Defense intelligence report: China in steady pursuit of space capabilities to outmatch U.S.”
By Sandra Erwin — January 16, 2019

James Lunar Miner

To expect that China won’t develop super propellant efficient nuclear propulsion powered spacecraft is silly.

Similarly, it is far beyond foolish to believe that Rosatom, the huge atomic energy company that operates Russia’s fleet of nuclear powered icebreakers will for some odd reason or another fail in its joint effort with Keldysh Research Center in their effort to develop cost effective, reusable, and super propellant efficient (super high Isp) nuclear powered space propulsion systems.

To believe that we can ignore the rich resources, geopolitical/military advantages, and scientific opportunities offered by highly efficient solar and nuclear powered electric propulsion spacecraft in accessing the Moon and asteroids during our Cold War II is to display a gross ignorance of science, history, and economics and a clear unwillingness to lead the world in building a better future for everyone on the Home Planet.

Yet strangely enough, the political party of John F. Kennedy seems to be strongly inclined to ignore highly propellant efficient nuclear powered space propulsion and Lunar and asteroid mining and development and is quite willing to have us remain lost and confused in space as far as our national space policies and deep space commercial and military transportation technological capabilities are concerned.

“However one feels about President Trump, even a die-hard never-Trumper has to concede that he has been pretty good for America’s space efforts. He has refocused NASA on a return to the moon.”

And, “Bernie believes space exploration is beneficial and exciting, and is generally supportive of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but when it comes to a limited federal budget, Bernie’s vote is to take care of the needs of struggling Americans on this planet first.”

And, “The reason that Sanders’ views on space, which he has not changed in the past three years, are significant is that virtually every Democrat, with the possible exception of Joe Biden, intends to run as a Bernie-clone.”

From: “WHITTINGTON: If America Elects A Democrat in 2020, Forget About Returning To The Moon”
By Mark Whittington 1/31/2019

James Lunar Miner

Yep, Mark Whittington understands the obvious.

“So, if a Democrat is elected president in 2020, America will retreat once again from the moon, ceding the future to other countries, particularly China. The end of the third return-to-the-moon effort in 30 years would be a public policy disaster on an epic scale. Such a decision would be the end of the United States as a significant country.”

From: “WHITTINGTON: If America Elects A Democrat in 2020, Forget About Returning To The Moon”
By Mark Whittington 1/31/2019

James Lunar Miner

Geopolitics played the most critical role in our first robotic and human visits to the Moon and will also play the most critical role in the commercial and military development of Lunar and Cislunar Space resources and opportunities.

For those inclined to analyze or place blame for our lost and confused national economic and space policies and China’s economic rise (and directly related real space dominance technological strengths) it is worth noting:

“In general, the differences between the previous cold war and this one outweigh the similarities. In Cold War I, the People’s Republic of China was first the junior partner of Soviet Russia, then its rival, and finally, in the 1980s, a de facto ally of the United States. In Cold War II, China is the most potentially powerful adversary of the U.S., and a much-diminished Russia is China’s opportunistic ally.”

And, “Cold War II, by contrast, is likely to be a traditional great-power struggle in which neo-Confucian or neo-Maoist authoritarianism has few supporters abroad, however much other countries may emulate aspects of Chinese state capitalism or welcome Chinese trade and investment.”

And, “America’s contradictory military and economic policies toward China have now collided.”

And, “And in the last few years, at a time of growing tensions with Russia, the U.S., which became dependent upon Russian rockets to put military satellites into orbit, has sought to restore America’s spaceflight capabilities, which Bush (43) Republicans and Clinton-Obama Democrats allowed to decay.”

From: “Cold War II
In the contest with China, geopolitics and geo-economics must be one”
By Michael Lind May 10, 2018

James Lunar Miner

The open architecture design of America’s Space Launch System (SLS) should allow us to effectively compete with China’s Long March 9 in launching potentially massive solar and nuclear propulsion powered spacecraft. Advanced versions of the SLS launcher will enable us to launch huge (150 metric ton or more), reusable, and super propellant efficient solar and nuclear powered space tugs and upper stages.

The LEO payload mass capability of the SLS can be significantly increased by using much larger boosters such as the ‘Pyrios’ boosters (or even larger boosters than the ‘Pyrios’).


“Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and Dynetics proposed a liquid-fueled booster named ‘Pyrios’.[54]”

And, “Estimates in 2012 indicated that the Pyrios booster could increase Block 2 low-Earth orbit payload to 150 t, 20 t more than the baseline.”

And, “An additional beyond-LEO engine for interplanetary travel from Earth orbit to Mars orbit, and back, is being studied as of 2013 at Marshall Space Flight Center with a focus on nuclear thermal rocket (NTR) engines.[72] In historical ground testing, NTRs proved to be at least twice as efficient as the most advanced chemical engines, which would allow quicker transfer time and increased cargo capacity.”

And, “The shorter flight duration, estimated at 3–4 months with NTR engines,[73] compared to 6–9 months using chemical engines,[74] would reduce crew exposure to potentially harmful and difficult to shield cosmic rays.[75][76][77][78]”

And, “In 2017 NASA continued research and development on NTRs, designing for space applications with civilian approved materials, with a three-year, $18.8-million contract.[81]”

From: “Space Launch System” Wikipedia

James Lunar Miner

Russia is working hard on the nuclear powered and highly propellant efficient propulsion system needed for the fast and high delta-v spaceships capable of Space Dominance in LEO and across CisLunar Space while we Americans babble on and loudly thump our Tarzan chests about the glories of a slow and grossly propellant inefficient fossil fueled BFR/Starship that is supposed to be able to slowly take American folks to Mars while they roast in the radiation rich environment of space and Russia is quickly and efficiently hauling endless cargo and Russian, Chinese, French, Indian, Cuban, and Iranian robotic and human miners and colonists to the Moon.

“MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The cooling system, which is the most important element of the Russian space transport and energy unit developed on the basis of megawatt-class nuclear electric propulsion, has been successfully tested in Russia, materials published on the government procurement website on Monday stated.”

And, “The propulsion includes a nuclear reactor and systems, required to produce the necessary heat, as well as for reactor control and protection. Technical solutions included in the concept of the unit will allow to solve a wide range of space tasks, including research programs of the Moon and distant planets.

And, “In March, Roscosmos unveiled plans to spend around $27.7 million to design a super heavy-lift carrier rocket.”

And, “The project should include the possibility of increasing the rocket’s carrying capacity to 140 and 27 tonnes to the two aforementioned distances.”

From: “Russia Successfully Tests Nuke Propulsion Spacecraft’s Key Element – Authorities” 10/29/2018

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