China Plans on Launching a Space Probe to the Moon's Most Mysterious Place
The China National Space Administration will attempt to make history on Friday by launching a probe destined for the dark side of the Moon. While twelve people have walked on the lunar surface — and space travelers have taken snapshots of the far side of the Moon — the area remains completely unexplored. China’s Chang’e 4 intends to change that in a mission that was first announced back in 2015.
The Chang’e 4 spacecraft is slated to launch at 1:30 p.m. Eastern from the Xichang launch center in Sichuan, China. The lander will attempt land in a vast impact crater that spans 1,500 miles across and is eight miles deep. The launch vessel will be aiming to place the probe in lunar orbit, at which point it will then descend to the surface using onboard thrusters. Once it’s on the ground, it will dispatch a rover. If successful, this mission will scout out some of the final uncharted territories of the Moon and it could serve as a stepping stone towards establishing a lunar telescope array.
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“Astronomers have long dreamed of a radio telescope array built on the far side of the moon,” Tamela Maciel, Space Communications Manager at the UK National Space Center told The Guardian. “Since the far side of the moon never faces the Earth, it’s shielded from all of our radio noise, and a radio telescope here would be like escaping from city light pollution and seeing the night sky from the top of a mountain.”
To be sure, the fact that this area never faces our planet poses communications issues. Signals from equipment situated on the far side of the Moon cannot reach Earth because it doesn’t have a line of sight. The China National Space Administration will use its Queqiao satellite that it launched into lunar orbit in May to relay information and commands between the lander and the Earth station. The devices will then study topography, the levels of radiation from the Sun, and the Moon’s potential to support plant life.
China’s lunar effort is further evidence that the Moon race is back in action. NASA has also proposed plans to establish an orbiting “lunar gateway” and surface outposts to explore. The United State’s plan hopes to get humans back on the Moon “no later than 2029,” with construction of the orbital station beginning as early as 2022.
In the meantime, China will have a sizable head start towards plotting out lunar real-estate that has never been seen up close.