An artist’s rendering of the Chang’e-4 probe on the moon’s dark side. Photo: Handout
An artist’s rendering of the Chang’e-4 probe on the moon’s dark side. Photo: Handout

China’s lunar ambitions have taken a great leap forward, with leaders of the space industry announcing the country will land more probes on the moon and explore its northern and southern poles by 2030.

Li Guoping, director of the Department of System Engineering at the Chinese Space Administration, said four missions would be mounted in the next phase of the program, as China builds to its ultimate goal of sending taikonauts to the moon and establishing a permanent base.

Named after Chang’e, the goddess of the moon in ancient Chinese mythology, China’s lunar exploration program was launched in 2003.

The Chang’e-4 lunar probe is scheduled to land on the far side of the moon at the end of this year, becoming the first man-made spacecraft to explore this region. The side of the moon that always faces away from Earth is pocked with a multitude of impact craters and has relatively few flat lunar maria, or large, dark, basaltic plains.

In June, a communication relay satellite, the Queqiao (Magpie Bridge), entered a halo orbit of the Earth-moon system.

A rendering of the Queqiao Chang’e-4 lunar satellite performing its communications relay functions beyond the moon. Chinese Academy of Sciences

Three other missions are intended to bring lunar samples back to Earth for the second time, land probes in the southern polar region, and then do the same in the northern polar region.

The exploration mission to the moon’s south pole aims to study the age of the lunar soil, and the composition of the solar wind’s isotopes of hydrogen, carbon, helium and oxygen, Li told the Global Times. The northern polar mission is intended to find out whether ice exists in the area of permanent shadow, he added.

Looking further ahead, China is considering setting up a base on the moon and implementing more robot and human lunar exploration missions, though there is no fixed timetable for these goals.

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