The United States and Russia aren’t the only two nations working hard at realizing their space-faring dreams. China has quickly ramped up its high-flying ambitions in the past couple of decades and late 2018 will mark a real milestone for the country’s space program. The country just announced that it plans on launching a lunar rover to the far side of the Moon in December of this year.
The announcement comes via China’s state-run news agency CCTV, and China seems bullish on the prospect of being the first country to explore the far side of Earth’s moon with a robotic rover.
The mission, named Chang’e 4, follows in the footsteps of its predecessor (you guessed it, Chang’e 3) which saw a rover nicknamed “Jade Rabbit” land on the near side of the Moon back in 2013. That rover ran out of steam in August of 2016, and the model that will be flying to the far side is built largely of backup parts from the Chang’e 3 mission.
“Its overall design is inherited from our last lunar rover,” Wu Weiren of China’s space agency said in an interview with CCTV. “But we worked hard to improve its reliability, conducting thousands of experiments to ensure its long-term operation, especially taking into consideration rocks, ravines and frictions on the moon.”
When it comes to space exploration, China is currently playing a game of catch up with other world powers. The country didn’t put much of a focus on space until relatively recently, but it’s made some impressive progress in recent years. Along with these lunar rovers and its own (somewhat ill-fated) space station launches, China has kicked around the idea of sending manned missions to the Moon as well as exploration efforts on Mars and beyond.
China’s most publicized space missions thus far have been solely scientific in their aims, but western governments have always seen the country’s space ambitions as a potential military threat. China has the largest military in the world, and while it’s always insisted that it has no intention of militarizing its space program, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine them doing so, especially the United States succeeds in its newfound desire to create a “space force.”