China’s space agency this week shared new details about its upcoming Chang’e-4 mission, which aims to launch two robots to the far side of the moon.
The mission, named after the mythical moon goddess Chang’e, it is the fourth phase in an ongoing lunar exploration program. China ultimately hopes its technological progress will lead to a crewed lunar landing – the first since NASA’s Apollo program ended in 1972.
In a press conference on 15 August, Wu Weiren, the chief designer of China’s lunar probe programme, said that the new explorer was more adaptable to complicated terrain than Yutu, the unmanned lunar rover that formed part of the Chinese Chang’e 3 mission to the Moon, launched at on 1 December 2013, and marked the first soft landing on the Moon since 1976 and the first rover to operate there since the Soviet Lunokhod 2 ceased operations on 11 May 1973.
Chang’e-4 will launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwest of the country atop a Long March 3B launch vehicle in December. The Chang’e-4 spacecraft will target a landing region within the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a vast impact crater of immense scientific interest, with potential landing areas previously identified in and around the Von Kármán crater.
Like Yutu, the rover will be equipped with four scientific payloads, including a panoramic camera, infrared imaging spectrometer and radar measurement devices, to obtain images of moon’s surface and detect lunar soil and structure. Chang’e-4 will also test some hardware that China plans to use for Chang’e-5: a mission designed to collect about 4.4 lbs of dust and rocks from a northwest part of the moon and bring those samples back to Earth.
Chang’e-4 may also deploy an experiment that would take images of the sky in low-frequency radio waves. That is practically impossible on Earth, given how noisy humans are with our electronics. But these frequencies are essential to understanding the universe’s and our own origins.
Since direct communication with the far side of the moon is impossible, China launched a relay satellite, named Queqiao, in May, to set up a communication link between the Earth and Chang’e-4 lunar probe.
At 140kg, the rover will be the smallest to ever land on the moon; the weight limitation, according to the designers, was necessary in order for both the lander and rover to be launched simultaneously.
The global public will have a chance to name the rover, according to State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense. Participants can submit their proposed names for the rover through the internet from Aug. 15 to Sept. 5, and the official name will be announced in October after several selection rounds. Winners will be rewarded at most 3,000 yuan and invited to watch the lunar probe launch. The name Yutu was chosen from 200,000 proposals submitted over two months worldwide.