For the first time in history China has landed a rover on the dark side of the moon. Because of the events significance a lot of people are calling it the second moon race. The country intends to observe the satellites natural geology, and measure solar wind striking the area as well as return lunar samples back to the Earth.
For some reason, the Chinese government decided to keep their planned landing time and exact location of the rover a secret until moments after it had been accomplished. The first photos were released to the public from the Chinese State Broadcaster CCTV.
Since it is on the dark side of the moon where there is no line of sight- a stable, direct communication link between the Change’e 4 probe and our planet is not possible. Instead, the signal is relayed from the rover to their Qqueqiao satellite and then back down to the Earth at an appropriate angle. Queqiao is stationed in a “halo orbit” around the L2 Lagrange point.
Once it begins to approach at an altitude of 15 km the Chang’e 4 rover can no longer be operated remotely. Luckily that is where advanced automated guidance systems come in handy. As rocket boosters are deployed a high tech camera guided by lidar helps the descending lander too avoid dangerous boulders and ditches.
The probe finally lands at the Von Karman Crater on a smooth volcanic floor inside of the Great Aitken basin.
“This is a great technological accomplishment as it was out of sight of Earth, so signals are relayed back by their orbiter, and most of the landing was actually done autonomously in difficult terrain,” said Prof Andrew Coates, a space scientist at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory. “The landing was almost vertical because of the surrounding hills.”
After landing, mission control in Beijing signaled the rover to unfold it’s equipment in preparation for detachment from the lander. Aside from studying lunar geology, and solar wind, China will also try to grow plants under the weak conditions of lunar gravity. The team expects to receive their first batch of data in the middle of February.