The lunar far side as imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter using its LROC Wide Angle Camera. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The lunar far side as imaged by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter using its LROC Wide Angle Camera.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Recent word from Chinese space officials is that the country’s Chang’e-4 lunar probe will likely be targeted for a far side Moon landing.

Wu Weiren, the chief engineer for China’s Lunar Exploration Program was quoted as telling Chinese Central Television: “We probably will choose a site on which it is more difficult to land and more technically challenging…Our next move will probably see some spacecraft land on the far side of the moon,” Wu said.

Some reports say that Chang’e-4 will orbit the Moon before sending a rover to the surface, possibly on the so far unexplored far side for the first time. Space project officials add that the “dark” side of the Moon is not dark. Rather, the far side receives sunlight as does the hemisphere that can be seen from Earth.

Chang’e-4 began as a backup probe for Chang’e-3. Since Chang’e-3’s lander and rover successfully landed on the moon in 2013, Chang’e-4 was to be given a new mission, which was to be decided after more study.

Pilot program

Last March, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) explained that China will launch its Chang’e-4 lunar probe before 2020.

Furthermore, that lunar mission will pilot a program that uses private investment from individuals and enterprises for the first time, said SASTIND.

Doing so is aimed at accelerating aerospace innovation, cutting production costs and promoting military-civilian relationships, said SASTIND, as reported by China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Logo for the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) Credit: CLEP

Logo for the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP)
Credit: CLEP

 

Track record

China’s lunar exploration program is divided into three stages: orbiting, landing and return.

China launched its first lunar probe, Chang’e-1, in October 2007, completing a 16-month imaging mission and was crashed into the Moon’s surface.

Chang’e-2 was launched in October 2010. After wrapping up its primary Moon-orbiting duties, the probe left lunar orbit for the Earth–Sun L2 Lagrangian point. It departed L2 and flew by asteroid 4179 Toutatis, one leg of a long-term mission to verify China’s deep-space tracking and control systems.

Group shot...China's Chang'e 3 lander and Yutu rover.  Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Group shot…China’s Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Chang’e 3was launched in December 2013 and marked the completion of the second stage of the country’s lunar program. A hefty lander touched down on the Moon, deploying the Yutu lunar rover.

Lunar sampling

A test capsule – mounted on a service module spacecraft and labeled by some as Chang’e 5-T1 — was hurled moonward in October 2014 and placed on a circumlunar trajectory.

Following circumlunar voyage, return capsule parachuted to Earth.  Courtesy: China Space

Following circumlunar voyage, return capsule parachuted to Earth.
Courtesy: China Space

 

The Chang’e 5-T1 craft chalked up nearly 196 hours of flight before releasing its capsule companion to make a fiery, skip re-entry and parachute landing on Earth. The capsule verified its use for China’s future lunar sample return effort, Chang’e-5, slated for flight in 2017.

The service module – after dropping off the test capsule — was then guided to the Earth-Moon Lagrangian (L2) position, completing three circles around that point and was later maneuvered into lunar orbit.

China/Russia space plans?

In a May 25 story from Russia’s TASS news agency, China and Russia have agreed to cooperate on future space endeavors, including a human mission to the Moon.

Citing an unnamed source, TASS reported that the two countries would develop common standards for docking hardware, electrical connectors and spacecraft atmospheres.

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