In a week extraordinarily filled with space exploration milestones, China has landed a probe softly on far side of the Moon! The China National Space Administration announced that the probe landed on Jan. 3, 2019 at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time.
BEIJING, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) — China’s Chang’e-4 probe touched down on the far side of the moon Thursday, becoming the first spacecraft soft-landing on the moon’s uncharted side never visible from Earth.
The probe, comprising a lander and a rover, landed at the preselected landing area at 177.6 degrees east longitude and 45.5 degrees south latitude on the far side of the moon at 10:26 a.m. Beijing Time, the China National Space Administration announced. – Xinhua
As a player of Kerbal Space Program, one of the first things I thought was: HOW do they communicate with the lander? There MUST be an orbiter or relay satellite of some sort. I was right! This Wikipedia entry answered it for me:
As part of the Chang’e 4 mission, two microsatellites (45 kg (99 lb) each) named Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2 (Chinese for “Dragon River”), were launched along with Queqiao in May 2018. However, Longjiang-1 failed to enter lunar orbit, while Longjiang-2 succeeded and is currently operational in lunar orbit. These microsatellites were tasked to observe the sky at very low frequencies (1-30 MHz), corresponding to wavelengths of 300 m to 10 m, with the aim of studying energetic phenomena from celestial sources. Due to the Earth’s ionosphere, no observations in this frequency range have been done in Earth orbit, offering potential breakthrough science.
Lander and rover
As is the case with many of China’s space missions, the details of the spacecraft and the mission in general have been limited. What is known is that much of the Chang’e 4 lander and rover design is modeled after Chang’e-3 and its Yutu rover. In fact, Chang’e 4 was built as a backup to Chang’e 3, but has been adapted to the specifics of the new mission. The lander and rover were launched six months after the launch of the Queqiao relay satellite, on 7 December 2018, 18:23 UTC.
The total landing mass is 1,200 kg (2,600 lb).
After landing, the lander will extend a ramp to deploy the rover to the lunar surface. The rover measures 1.5 × 1.0 × 1.0 m (4.9 × 3.3 × 3.3 ft) and has a mass of 140 kg (310 lb). The rover was fabricated at Dongguan, Guangdong province, is solar-powered, and it is propelled by six wheels. The rover’s nominal operating time is three months, but after the experience with Yutu rover in 2013, the rover design was improved and Chinese engineers are hopeful it will operate for “a few years”.