China today unveiled plans to send a lunar probe called Chang’e-4 to land along with a rover in the unexplored south pole region of the far side of the moon in 2018.
A relay satellite for Chang’e-4 to the halo orbit of the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point L2 in late May or early June 2018, and then launch the Chang’e-4 lunar lander and rover to the Aitken Basin of the south pole region about half a year later, Liu Tongjie, deputy director of the CNSA’s Lunar Exploration and Space Program Centre said.
“We plan to land Chang’e-4 at the Aitken Basin because the region is believed to be a place with great scientific research potential,” Liu told state run Xinhua news agency.
The far side of the moon is never visible to Earth because of gravitational forces and has never been explored by humans, Liu Jizhong, chief of the lunar exploration centre under China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) said earlier.
Chang’e-4 will be the first mission in human history to embark on this expedition, he said.
With its special environment and complex geological history, the far side of the moon is a hot spot for scientific and space exploration.
However, landing and roving there requires the relay satellite to transmit signals.
The transmission channel is limited, and the landscape is rugged, so the Chang’e-4 mission will be more complicated than Chang’e-3, China’s first soft landing mission on the moon, which was completed in 2013, Liu Tongjie said.
The lander of Chang’e-4 will be equipped with descent and terrain cameras, and the rover will be equipped with a panoramic camera, he said.
Like China’s first lunar rover Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, carried by Chang’e-3, the rover of Chang’e-4 will carry subsurface penetrating radar to detect the near surface structure of the moon, and an infrared spectrometer to analyse the chemical composition of lunar samples.
But unlike Chang’e-3, the new lander will be equipped with an important scientific payload especially designed for the far side of the moon, a low-frequency radio spectrometer.
“Since the far side of the moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it’s an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can ‘listen’ to the deeper reaches of the cosmos,” Liu said.
The Chang’e-4 probe will also carry three scientific payloads respectively developed by the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany, according to Liu.
“It’s in-depth, friendly and win-win international cooperation under the leadership of the CNSA,” said Liu.
The low-frequency radio spectrometer, developed in the Netherlands will be installed on Chang’e-4 relay satellite.
Scientists say it is essential to investigate the radiation environment on the lunar surface, in preparation for human missions to the moon.