China announced plans to land the first ever probe on the far side of the Moon in 2018. Titled Chang’e-4, the spacecraft will study the geology of the lunar hemisphere that faces away from the Earth, which has never been explored other than from orbit.
The announcement by the Chinese news agency Xinhua moves up the plans from their original goal, previously set at 2020.
Along with the announcement, Xinhua expressed the nation’s interest in cooperating with “international society” to accomplish the mission.
Liu Jizhong, chief of China’s State Administration of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense’s Moon exploration program, emphasized the significant milestone a landing on the Moon’s far side will be for human space exploration.
In December 2013, China successfully soft landed the unmanned Chang’e-3 on the lunar surface. That probe continues to send data back to Earth.
Chang’e-4 is being designed to carry a larger payload than its predecessor. It will be followed by Chang’e-5, which is currently in the process of being developed.
Last March, China expressed the desire to work with private companies in its lunar program. In a communication described as a “letter of intent of cooperation,” the Chinese government reached out to several countries informing them of its Moon plans.
The Moon’s far side is an ideal location for highly sensitive instruments because radio transmissions from Earth are unable to reach it and interfere with science instruments placed there.
A radio telescope placed on the Moon’s far side could fill a knowledge gap, enabling study of astronomical objects and phenomena currently not accessible.
China’s lunar exploration plans are even more ambitious. In 2017, the nation plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon, collect samples, and return them to Earth.
The country has even expressed interest in an eventual manned Moon mission.