According to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua news agency, for the first time, a Chinese space probe is getting into position to land on the dark side of the moon. Experts and analysts see this mission as an important step for the country in its objective to gather momentum for its space programme.
Citing the China National Space Administration, the Chinese news agency said on Sunday that the probe, which is called the Chang’e-4, got into a planned orbit on Sunday “to prepare for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon”. The report however did not specify when the landing would take place.
The far side of the moon – or the “dark side” as it is popularly called – is never visible from Earth because the moon is tidally locked to Earth and it rotates at the same rate at which it orbits our planet Earth.
The Chang’e-4 probe was launched by China earlier this month and it was launched with the help of a Long March-3B rocket. A lander and a rover to explore the surface of the moon was carried along with the rocket.
A new chapter in lunar exploration has been opened up by the Chang’e-4 lunar probe, says China.
According to the report published by Xinhua, at 8.55 am Beijing time (11.55am AEDT), the probe had entered an elliptical lunar orbit. That manoeuvre had brought the probe to the closest point with the moon which is just 15 kilometres away from the surface of the moon. The Chang’e-4 first entered a lunar orbit on December 12.
Conducting experiments to measure the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to explore the environment on the far side of the moon is one of the aims of the Chang’e-4. Its other objectives include conducting a survey of the moon’s terrain, landform and mineral composition and undertaking astronomical observation.
The objective of the Chinese space program is to be at level with the space programs and achievements of Russia and the United States and then by 2030 to become a major space power. According to reports, starting next year, China is also planning to start construction of its own manned space station.
However, China has been accused of engaging in activities that are aimed at stopping other countries from making use of space-based assets during a crisis by the US Defense Department. In response to that allegation, China has insisted that its space programs are aimed to gain completely peaceful outcomes.
Xinhua reported that a “proper time” to land the probe on the far side of the moon would be selected by the space control centre. A relay satellite, the Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge would aid the descent.
(Adapted from SBS.com.au)