Jason DavisJan 02, 2019

China successfully lands Chang'e-4 on far side of Moon

It’s a space feat no nation has accomplished until now: China’s Chang’e-4 spacecraft has successfully landed on the far side of the Moon! Chinese state media announced the combination lander-rover touched down at 10:26 Beijing time on 3 January 2019 (02:26 UTC, 22:26 EST 2 January). 

The targeted landing site was Von Kármán crater:

News brief

Von Kármán crater is located within the South Pole-Aitken basin, where an ancient lunar impact may have exposed the Moon’s mantle. By studying this region directly, Chang’e-4 will learn more about the early solar system and Earth.

In addition to its value as a scientific exploration target, the Moon’s quiet, airless far side makes it one of the best places in the inner solar system for science applications like radio astronomy. But since the far side never faces Earth, missions there require a relay satellite. China solved that problem by launching the Queqiao relay satellite in May 2018.

Chang'e-4 mission profile
Chang'e-4 mission profile Image: Loren Roberts for The Planetary Society

Chang’e-4 itself launched on 8 December 2018. It entered lunar orbit four days later, where mission controllers spent 22 days testing the spacecraft’s systems, waiting for the Sun to rise at the landing site. Today, Chang’e-4 successfully de-orbited and landed. One of its first tasks will be to deploy a rover similar to Yutu, which accompanied Chang’e-3 to the Moon in 2013.

China formally announced the mission in December 2015 as part of its ambitious Chang’e lunar program that started in 2007 and will culminate with a sample return mission in 2019. 

The Queqiao relay satellite also brought along two SmallSats named Longjiang-1 and 2 bound for lunar orbit. Only Longjiang-2 was successful, and has sent home some phenomenal pictures, including a new Earthrise image.

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