China plans to launch a spacecraft to the far side of the moon this month. The Chang’e-4 spacecraft is scheduled to take off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan on December 8 carrying a lander and rover, which will touch down on the lunar surface. No spacecraft has ever touched down on the surface of the moon’s far side.
The mission is to explore and study the crater-marked far side of the moon, conducting the first radio astronomy experiments from that region, reports Scientific American.
Chang’e-4 is the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) latest move in its lunar aspirations. In 2013, Chang’e-3 performed a “soft” landing on the surface. In the years that followed, CNAS announced its plan to build a moon base, launching a satellite to relay communications from the lander on the lunar surface to Earth, circumventing the moon’s mass.
If the touchdown is successful for the Chang’e-4 rover, it will be tasked with mapping the area around its landing site. Equipped with a ground-penetrating radar, the rover will measure the subsurface layers. A near and infrared spectrometer will allow it to measure the mineral makeup of the lunar soil. These measurements may help geologists better understand the geological dynamics of the moon’s evolution.
The CNSA has not made Chang’e-4’s landing site public, though Zongcheng Ling, a planetary scientist at Shandong University and member of the mission team, told Scientific American that the most probable location is Von Kármán, a more than 115-mile wide crater.
Part of Chang’e-4 mission is in preparation for future crewed missions and the CNAS’s desired moon base. Among its experiments will be one to study whether certain seeds sprout and photosynthesize in a controlled environment on the moon’s low-gravity surface.
“When we take the step towards long-term human habitation on the Moon or Mars, we will need greenhouse facilities to support us, and will need to live in something like a biosphere,” Anna-Lisa Paul, a horticultural scientist at the University of Florida, told Scientific American.
This specific experiment will aim to verify studies conducted no the International Space Station, which determined that potato and thale-cress grow normally in controlled low-gravity environments but not in environments with gravity as low as the moon’s.
The CNAS has another mission, Chang’e-5, slated to launch in 2019. Chang’e-5’s mission will be to bring back samples collected by the rover.