Many of us like to start off a new year by doing something special. Oftentimes it’s setting a lofty goal we’d like to achieve over the following 12 months, but China’s space agency won’t need to wait nearly that long to place a large feather in its 2019 cap. The Chang’e 4 spacecraft is slated to arrive on the far side of the Moon within the first few days of the new year, and it’ll be a major “first” for the country.
As the South China Morning Post reports, Chinese scientists are anticipating the landing of the Chang’e 4 sometime between January 1st and 3rd, and the mission has been a long time in the making.
Several months ago China launched relay satellites that will allow the Chang’e 4 to communicate with its handlers back on Earth. The lander is also equipped with a rover which will explore the lunar surface to a limited extent.
The mission is groundbreaking for a number of reasons but the most notable is that it’ll be the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, and China’s second Moon landing overall. As China prepares for the touchdown, Chang’e 4’s engineers have been busy testing various systems, including the communications link that will play a vital role in ensuring that the mission is a success.
The Chang’e 4 is very similar to the Chang’e 3, which was China’s very first Moon landing success, and its successor is actually a backup version of the previous model that has been modified to carry out new mission objectives. The new rover will study the lunar surface composition as well as study the terrain.
Looking forward, the eventual Chang’e 5 is being planned as the grande finale for China’s push to the Moon, and the spacecraft that makes that trip will not only land on the Moon like its predecessors but also return to Earth with samples of the lunar surface.