China module lands on dark side of moon

BEIJING, 3 Jan 2019: 

China’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon early today, becoming the first spacecraft soft-landing on the moon’s uncharted side that is never visible from Earth, Xinhua news agency reported.

The spacecraft comprised of a lander and a rover, touched down at the preselected landing area at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on the far side of the moon at 10.26am (Beijing Time), the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced. It had entered the moon’s orbit in mid-December.

With the communication assistance of the relay satellite Queqiao, meaning Magpie Bridge, the spacecraft sent back the first-ever close-up photograph of the moon’s far side, opening a new chapter in lunar exploration.

The moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side – or the “dark side” – is never visible from Earth. Previous spacecraft have seen the far side of the moon but none has landed on it.

The landing “lifted the mysterious veil” from the far side of the moon and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration”, the China broadcaster said.

After the Beijing Aerospace Control Centre sent an order at 10.15am, the Chang’e-4 spacecraft, launched on 8 Dec 2018, began to descend from 15km above the moon with a variable thrust engine being ignited, said CNSA.

The Chang’e-4’s relative velocity to the moon was lowered from 1.7km/second to close to zero, and the spacecraft’s attitude was adjusted at about 6-8km above the lunar surface.

At 100m up, the spacecraft hovered to identify obstacles and measured the slopes on the surface. After avoiding the obstacles, it selected a relatively flat area and descended vertically and slowly.

Then the Chang’e-4 landed in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

During the descending process, a camera on the probe took photos of the landing area.

The tasks of the Chang’e-4 include astronomical observation, surveying the moon’s terrain, landform and mineral composition, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon, CNSA has said.

China aims to catch up with Russia and the US to become a major space power by 2030. It is planning to launch construction of its own manned space station next year.

However, while China has insisted its ambitions are purely peaceful, the US Defence Department has accused it of pursuing activities aimed at preventing other nations from using space-based assets during a crisis.

Apart from its civilian ambitions, Beijing has tested anti-satellite missiles and the US Congress has banned Nasa from bilateral cooperation with its Chinese counterpart due to security concerns.

The US is so far the only country to have landed humans on the moon. President Donald Trump said in 2017 he wants to return astronauts to the lunar surface and establish a foundation there for an eventual mission to Mars.

China said in 2017 it was making preparations to send a person to the moon.

In 2003, it became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the US, and in 2013 completed its first lunar “soft landing”.

– Bernama, Reuters