Chinese Yutu rover on the Moon. Photo Credit: CNSA
After becoming the third country to land a probe on the Moon, China has apparently gained an appetite for lunar firsts. The Chinese government has decided to start the development of the Chang’e-4 mission – the successor of Chang’e-3, which had successfully landed on the lunar surface in December 2013. The new spacecraft should be launched by 2020, making it the first probe to land on the far side of the Moon.
“China will be the first to complete the task if it is successful,” said Zou Yongliao from the Moon exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences at a deep-space exploration forum held on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
According to Yongliao, the goal of Chang’e-4 will be to study geologic conditions and low-frequency radio waves. The far side of the Moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low-frequency radio study.
“If we can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void,” he said, referring to the gap in information about the far side of the Moon.
Chang’e-4 will be very similar to its predecessor in term’s of the vehicle’s structure, but it should be able to handle an increase in its payload. The mission will include a lunar lander and rover. The potential landing sites include the Aitken Basin, a huge impact crater some 1,600 miles (2,575 km) in diameter and 8.1 miles (13 km) deep.
“We probably will choose a site that is more difficult to land and more technically challenging. Other countries have chosen to land on the near side of the Moon. Our next move probably will see some spacecraft land on the far side of the Moon,” chief lunar exploration engineer Wu Weiren said in May of this year.
China also plans to launch its Chang’e-5 lunar probe sometime in 2017 to finish the last chapter in China’s orbiting, landing, and sample-return Moon exploration program. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and the Soviet Union to return samples from the lunar surface.
Chang’e-5 could achieve several breakthroughs, including automatic sampling, ascending from the Moon without a launch site, and an unmanned docking 250,000 miles (402,336 km) above the surface of the Moon.
China’s lunar exploration program, named Chang’e after a Chinese mythical Moon goddess, has already launched a pair of orbiting lunar probes. In 2013, China had successfully landed a spacecraft on the Moon with a rover aboard, named Yutu or Jade Rabbit. The accomplishment had made China the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to soft land a spacecraft on lunar soil.
China is also considering a possible crewed mission to the Moon.