China has launched an exploration module that has to land on the far side of the moon, a world premiere that should strengthen Beijing's space ambitions.
The vehicle nicknamed Chang & e-4 – from the name of the moon goddess in Chinese mythology – set off on a Long March 3B rocket from the launch center of Xichang (southwest) just before dawn Saturday (Friday evening in universal time) , according to China News Agency.
This is the beginning of a long journey for the Chinese car that should be around the new year, to observe this unexplored part of the moon and conduct scientific experiments.
Unlike the face closest to the earth, which is always facing our planet, no exploration or probe module has ever touched the ground on the other side.
The hidden face is mountainous and robust, dotted with craters, while the visible face offers many flat surfaces to land.
It was not until 1959 that the Soviets took the first pictures.
"For ten or twenty years, China has systematically retraced the steps that America and the Soviet Union had undertaken in space explorations in the years" 60 and & 70 ", said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "This was one of the first times the Chinese took something that no one else has yet done."
For years, China is preparing for this particularly difficult operation from a technological point of view.
One of the biggest challenges is being able to communicate with the lunar robot: the hidden face is always oriented in the opposite direction to the earth, there is a direct "line of sight" to transmit signals, except to install a relay.
In May, China launched a satellite called Queqiao, positioned in lunar orbit to transmit orders and data exchanged between the earth and the module.
– Lunar night –
During the lunar night – duration of 14 terrestrial days – the temperatures fall to -173 degrees Celsius and during the lunar day – even equivalent to 14 Earth days – can reach 127 degrees Celsius.
And to exacerbate the difficulty, the Chang & e-4 was sent to a region of the south pole of the moon, the basin of Aitken, whose terrain is particularly complex and steep, according to Chinese state media.
The equipment must, in particular, conduct studies on low radio frequencies, mineral resources and the cultivation of tomatoes and other plants.
This is the second time that China has sent a car to explore the lunar surface after the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) in 2013, which has been active for 31 months.
Beijing has already planned to launch a Chang & # 39; e-5 next year to collect samples and bring them back to earth.
China invests billions in its space program, led by the military. It puts satellites in orbit, on its behalf (Earth observation, telecommunications, Beidou geolocation system) or for other countries. He also hopes to send a robot to Mars and humans to the moon.
Beijing has inaugurated in November a replica of its first large space station ("Heaven Palace") to be assembled around 2022 and succeeding the ISS (International Space Station).
The ISS associates the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, but its retirement is scheduled for 2024.
RWM / Ith / qan / KAF / dd / AVZ / cr