China is set to become the first nation to explore the far side of the moon, after Chang’e-4 lunar probe entered a planned orbit, ahead of its much-anticipated landing on the unexplored part of Earth’s satellite.
“The probe has entered an elliptical lunar orbit, with the perilune [closest point] at about 15 km and the apolune [maximum distance] at about 100 km,” the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced Sunday.
The Chang’e-4 probe, consisting of a lander and a rover, was launched on December 8. It is now up to its ground control to determine the “proper time” for the Chinese lunar exploration mission to make a touchdown on the far side of the moon, the space agency said. The probe’s descent will be aided by a communications relay satellite, the Queqiao, which China deployed back in May.
If the landing is successful China will enter the history books and proceed to explore the composition of an unexplored region of the moon to learn more about its formation and history. The far side has long fascinated scientists after being first photographed by the Soviet space probe Luna 3 in 1959. Whether or not this mission proves a success, Beijing plans to land astronauts on the moon by 2030.
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