China aims to land probe on dark side of the moon

The far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth is seen in a NASA image taken on July 16, 2015.
The far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun as it crosses between the DSCOVR spacecraft's Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth is seen in a NASA image taken on July 16, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (AFP) - China is planning to land a lunar probe on the far side of the moon, state media reported, the latest step for Beijing's ambitious space programme.

The mission will be launched before 2020 and aims to land a probe on a part of the moon never visible from earth, the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing officials at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The far side of the moon has been seen by previous probes, but no country has attempted a landing.

The goal will be to study low frequency radio waves and geological conditions, according to the Xinhua report. The mission, named Chang'e 4, follows the Chang'e 3, which landed a rover dubbed Yutu on the moon in 2013.

That made China the third nation after the US and Soviet Union to land on the Earth's only natural satellite.

Chang'e is the name of the moon goddess in Chinese mythology and Yutu is her pet rabbit.

"If we can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void," Zou Yongliao, of the moon exploration department at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Plans for China to land on the dark side of the moon first emerged in May, but with no details, according to a report by the state-run China Daily.

"We probably will choose a site on which it is more difficult to land and more technically challenging," Wu Weiren, chief engineer of China's Lunar Exploration Programme, told state broadcaster CCTV at the time.

China completed its first return mission to the moon last year with an unmanned probe landing successfully back on Earth.