Orbiting the moon, China’s Chang’e 4 lunar lander has moved into position in preparation for mankind’s first landing on the far side of Earth’s only natural satellite.
In entering its planned orbit on Sunday, the Chinese spacecraft will “prepare for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon,” stated the China National Space Administration, cited by the state-owned Xinhua media outlet.
Beijing did not immediately make available details on when the landing will occur, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Locked in a tidal embrace with the same lunar face always aimed at the Earth, the moon’s far side — also known as the ‘dark’ side — has not been explored on the surface, although numerous orbital flyovers have made detailed maps.
The Chang’e 4 spacecraft, launched December 7 on a Long March-3B rocket, initially entered lunar orbit five days later on December 12, deploying a landing craft and a surface rover in preparation for its descent.
As reported by Xinhua, the spacecraft entered an elliptical orbit around the moon at 8:55 a.m., Beijing time (12:55 a.m. GMT) on December 12. Pericenter — the closest the orbital object comes to its celestial host as it speeds past — is reported as being a mere 9 miles above the rocky surface, according to SCMP.
Viewed by the international science community as a key mission in Beijing’s burgeoning space program, Chang’e 4 will make astronomical observations, survey lunar terrain and study the composition of minerals.
The spacecraft will also measure neutron radiation and various other radio-, light- and gravity-energy metrics as a means of studying the little-known far side of the moon.