A rocket carrying the Chang’e-4 lunar lander blasted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southern China over the weekend. The lander is aiming for a site no human or machine has gone before: the far side of the moon.
Chinese authorities did not broadcast the launch. However, an unofficial live stream showed the rocket rising from the launchpad into the sky. The Change’e-4’s successful launch was announced by state-run news agency Xinhua an hour later.
Authorities have not yet announced when the lander will reach its destination.
The spacecraft’s design seems to be mostly based on the Chang’e-3, which landed on the moon in 2013. The Chang’e-4 was in fact initially designed as a back up to that lander. However, since the 2013 mission was successful, Chinese scientists decided to fit the Chang’e-4 with different equipment and send it to a different location.
The spacecraft is made of two parts; the main lander which weighs around 2,400 pounds and a rover which weighs 300 pounds.
On the far side of the moon, the Chang’e-4 will land in the 110-mile-wide Von Kármán crater, which is in an area known as the South Pole-Aitken basin. This is a 1,600-mile-wide crater at the bottom of the moon, which also has a mineralogy which is distinct from the rest of the moon.
The spacecraft has been fitted with cameras, ground-penetrating radar and spectrometers which will help it identify the composition of rock and dirt in the area. Apart from probing the structure of the rocks under the spacecraft, they will also study the effects of solar wind on the moon’s surface and the potential of making radio astronomy observations from the far side of the moon.
According to Xinhua, Chang’e-4 is also carrying materials for a biology experiment to see if plant seeds can germinate in the moon’s low gravity.
In May, China launched a special satellite named Queqiao to help ground control communicate with the spacecraft. This is because the moon blocks radio signals from Earth. It is currently circling over the far side of the moon.