Pi­o­neer­ing Moon mis­sion lifts off China

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

China has launched a ground-break­ing mis­sion to land a space­craft on the largely un­ex­plored far side of the Moon, demon­strat­ing its grow­ing am­bi­tions as a space power to ri­val Rus­sia, the Euro­pean Union and the United States.

A Long March 3B rocket car­ry­ing a lu­nar probe blasted off yes­ter­day from the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­tre in Sichuan prov­ince in south­west­ern China, the of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency said.

With its Chang’e 4 mis­sion, China hopes to be the first coun­try to make a soft land­ing of a space­craft, dur­ing which no se­ri­ous dam­age is in­curred, on the Moon’s far side, also known as the dark side be­cause it faces away from Earth and re­mains com­par­a­tively un­known.

It has a dif­fer­ent com­po­si­tion than sites on the near side, where pre­vi­ous mis­sions have landed.

If suc­cess­ful, the mis­sion would pro­pel the Chi­nese space pro­gramme into a lead­ing po­si­tion in one of the most im­por­tant ar­eas of lu­nar ex­plo­ration.

China landed its Yutu, or Jade Rab­bit, rover on the moon five years ago, and plans to have its Chang’e 5 probe land there next year and re­turn to Earth with sam­ples – the first time this will have been done since 1976. A crewed lu­nar mis­sion is also un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Chang’e 4 is a lan­der-rover com­bi­na­tion, and will ex­plore both above and be­low the lu­nar sur­face after ar­riv­ing at the South Pole-Aitken basin’s Von Kar­man crater fol­low­ing a 27-day jour­ney.

It will also per­form ra­dio-as­tro­nom­i­cal stud­ies that, be­cause the far side al­ways faces away from Earth, will be ‘‘free from in­ter­fer­ence from our planet’s iono­sphere, hu­man-made ra­dio fre­quen­cies and au­ro­ral ra­di­a­tion noise’’, space in­dus­try ex­pert Leonard David wrote on the web­site Space.com. It may also carry plant seeds and silk­worm eggs, ac­cord­ing to Xin­hua.

China con­ducted its first crewed space mis­sion in 2003, mak­ing it only the third coun­try after Rus­sia and the US to do so. It has put a pair of space sta­tions into or­bit, one of which is still op­er­at­ing as a pre­cur­sor to a larger sta­tion that is due to come on­line in 2022. The launch of a Mars rover is planned for the mid-2020s.

China’s space pro­gramme suf­fered a rare set­back last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

AP

A rocket car­ry­ing the Chang’e 4 lu­nar probe, which will ex­plore the Moon’s largely un­known far side, is launched from the Xichang Satel­lite Launch Cen­tre.

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