In 2018, China’s Chang’e-4 probe will likely be the first mission to explore the far side of the moon.
The mission builds on the success of the Chang’e-3 mission which landed on the moon in December of 2013 and discovered a new type of moon rock. If successful, the mission could shed light on the many mysteries of the moon, like how exactly did it form, and what is going on beneath its thick crust.
The far side of the moon is often wrongly dubbed the dark side of the moon, even though it gets as much sunshine as the near side. The reason we can’t see the far side of the moon is that it rotates exactly once per orbit, keeping that side permanently hidden from viewers on Earth.
Although no mission has ever landed on the far side of the moon, it has been mapped and surveyed thoroughly from lunar orbit. In theory, the far side is not any harder to land on then the near side – the problem is that, with the moon blocking the direct path to Earth, radio transmission to and from the spacecraft is impossible there.
To solve this issue, a relay satellite will be deployed before the rover mission for communication purposes. The satellite will orbit at a lagrange point (positions where gravity interactions create stable locations) known as L2, 67,000 km beyond the moon. L2 will also be the future home of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.
The Chang’e-4’s landing site has yet to be confirmed but it will most likely be inside the Aitken basin, which is the largest impact crater on the moon. The 8 km deep basin will be an ideal place to learn about the lunar interior.
If the mission is successful, the next logical step is to send astronauts to the moon, and it looks like China will be competing with the European Space Agency rather than NASA, who has its sights set on Mars.