What would the lander and rover do?
Since the Moon spins around the same center of rotation as Earth, it's always facing away from us. The far side is a far more rugged and mountainous surface than the well-studied near side of the Moon.
The moon is tidally locked to Earth, meaning the natural satellite takes about the same amount of time to spin once on its axis as it does to orbit our planet.
China was preparing to launch a ground-breaking mission early Saturday to soft-land a spacecraft on the largely unexplored far side of the moon, demonstrating its growing ambitions as a space power to rival Russian Federation, the European Union and U.S.
Why was no mission launched to the far side?
Chang'e-4's target landing spot was described in a research report led by scientists from the China University of Geosciences and published earlier this year. Queqiao has set up shop at the Earth-moon Lagrange point 2, a gravitationally stable spot beyond the moon from which the satellite will be able to relay communications between mission control and Chang'e 4.
China will use the preceding three weeks in lunar orbit to take images of the surface, and ensure the landing site is clear of obstacles. "They are talking about around December 31 or January 1", says Bernard Foing, director of the European Space Agency's International Lunar Exploration Working Group, who was part of a European collaboration with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on the mission. It includes a ground-penetrating radar to look up to 100 meters beneath the surface, three cameras, radio astronomy experiments to study the Milky Way unhindered by Earth-based interference and an intriguing experiment to grow biological samples on the lunar surface.
China launched a relay satellite called Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) on May 21, which entered orbit around 65,000 kilometers (40,300 miles) from the moon on June 14. Chang'e-4 will land inside the relatively small, flat Von Karman crater, in the area of the huge ancient South Pole-Aitkin Basin, which has a proliferation of smaller craters inside indicating its age. Using a tool called a Very Low Frequency interferometer it will study the universe at extremely low wavelengths while the moon shields it from Earth's radio noise. This time, however, the agency said that it wants to establish permanent settlements on the lunar surface.
Incorporating U.S. companies is a key principle of NASA's plan to extend human space exploration first to the moon and then to Mars.
All of this is leading up to the Chang'e 5 sample-return mission, which could launch toward the near side as early as next year. "But first, we have to practise operating a mission from the far side first, and that's what Chang'e 4 will help us do".
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