China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the moon. Up until now, no nation had ever landed a lunar lander on the far side of the moon, a mission complicated by the fact that the moon blocks direct communications with Earth. The lunar probe known as Chang’e-4 touched down early Thursday (Beijing time) in the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole Aitken Basin. This particular crater is the largest, deepest and oldest known crater in the solar system.
At 10:26 am Beijing time on Thursday, January 3rd, the Chang’e-4 lunar lander, carrying a 300-pound rover with probes and spectrometers, touched down on the far side of the moon in the Von Karman crater. China’s rover will be the first to explore a far side crater, probing it with ground-penetrating radar and measuring its mineral composition with an infrared spectrometer. If there is water on the far side of the moon, the rover is likely to find it. The first pictures of the landing site have been relayed to Earth by the Quegiao satellite which was launched by China in May of 2018, specifically for this mission.
As far as the landing is concerned, it evidently went quite smoothly according to spaceweather.com despite no line-of-sight contact with the far side meaning the lander had to perform many complex maneuvers autonomously. As it descended to an altitude of about 2 km, onboard cameras captured the shadows of objects on the lunar surface, identifying large rocks and craters so the probe could avoid them. At 100 meters up, the probe hovered to identify smaller obstacles and measured the slope of the surface to select the safest site. The probe performed the entire landing process in about 12 minutes with no intervention from ground control.
Chang’e-4 was launched from the Xichang satellite launch station in Sichuan province (southern China) on December 8th, 2018. Chang’e-4 carries German and Swedish research equipment to study radiation and the lunar wind. It is also expected to experiment with conducting low frequency radio astronomy observations free of interference from Earth. A forerunner, Chang’e-3 landed on the moon in 2013 becoming the first spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon since the Soviet Union's Luna-24 in 1976. However, the Chang-e-3 lunar rover malfunctioned soon after the landing and was unable to move after its second night. Later this year, China is expected to launch another lunar lander, Chang’e-5, with its own rover to bring back samples.
Meteorologist Paul Dorian