Earlier this week, the Inquisitr reported that China could be launching a pioneering lunar mission over the weekend. Since then, sources have confirmed that the historic launch will occur on December 7, with liftoff scheduled for around 1:30 p.m. EST (2:30 a.m. on December 8, local time).
Known as the Chang'e 4 mission, this trailblazing endeavor aims to land a robotic probe on the dark side of the moon for the first time in human history. While several lunar landers have made it to the near side of Earth's natural satellite — including this mission's precursor, the Chang'e 3 — no manmade spacecraft has ever landed on the lunar far side.
According to Space, the Chang'e 4 mission will take to space atop a Long March 3B rocket — scheduled to blast off into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the Chinese Sichuan province.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the robotic expedition consists of a rover-lander duo, slated to touch down near the moon's south pole. The spacecraft will take 27 days to reach the moon -- and then will prepare for a soft landing in the Von Karman Crater sometime in January. The 115-mile-wide crater is part of the gigantic South Pole‐Aitken Basin — the largest known impact structure in the entire solar system, and the oldest one to exist on the moon's surface.
If everything goes according to plan, this will be China's second robotic mission to touch down on the moon. The Chang'e 3 expedition landed the Yutu rover — also known as the Jade Rabbit — in the northern part of Mare Imbrium in 2013.
The main goal of the Chang'e 4 mission is to investigate the mysterious lunar far side — the side of the moon that always faces away from Earth — and to study the region's surface and subsurface.
"It is a key area to answer several important questions about the early history of the moon, including its internal structure and thermal evolution," said Bo Wu, a geoinformatician at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who helped describe the topography and geomorphology of this site.
While the rover will be busy patrolling the terrain and analyzing the area's topography and mineral composition, the lander is all set to conduct two groundbreaking experiments that have never been attempted before. These are the first radio astronomy study to ever be conducted on the dark side of the moon — where there is no interference from Earths' ionosphere or from solar radio emissions — and the first lunar botanical experiment, designed to examine whether plants can grow in the low-gravity environment on the moon, notes Scientific American.
The mission's scientific objectives have been detailed in a paper published last month in the journal Planetary and Space Science. To read up on the Chang'e 4 landing site -- and to find out what kind of scientific instruments are going to the moon aboard the rover-lander duo -- see this previous report from the Inquisitr.
Seeing as though the Chang'e 4 rover and lander will be out of communications range with Earth -- due to their location on the lunar far side -- all of the mission's data will be relayed through China's Queqiao satellite. Launched in May during the first stage of the Chang'e 4 mission, the satellite is currently positioned at the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point, and will handle communications between ground controllers and the lander-rover duo, as reported by the Inquisitr.
Run by the China National Space Administration, Chang'e 4 is the latest in a series of lunar expeditions — all named after the Chinese moon goddess — which will follow up with Chang'e 5 in 2019, and Chang'e 6 in the early 2020s.
Chang'e 5 is headed to the near side of the moon to collect 4.4 pounds of lunar samples from a site near Mons Rumker in Oceanus Procellarum, reports GB Times. Meanwhile, Chang'e 6 will be a sample return mission, to which international partners are welcome to enlist as well.