China launched a reconnaissance ship that plans to stand on the dark side of the Moon, the world's first place to boost space ambitions in Beijing.
The vehicle was baptized Changes e-4 – in honor of the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology – left on March 3B missile from the Xichang Start Center (southwest China) on Saturday in 2H23 local (18h23 GMT on Friday), according to the official Xinhua agency.
It is the beginning of a long journey for a Chinese ship that should land near the New Year to travel through this untapped part of the Moon and carry out scientific research.
Unlike the face visible from Earth, no probe or scanner has ever reached the surface on the other side.
This face is mountainous and rugged, with flowing craters, while the more visible side has several planar surfaces.
In 1959, the Soviets took the first images of the hidden face of the Moon.
Chang-e-4 will be "the first human race to land on the hidden side of the Moon and explore it," said chief of mission He Rongwei, quoted by Global Times, in Chinese and English. , "This mission is also the most important space exploration project in the world in 2018," he said.
"In the course of 10 or 20 years, China is systematically going through the steps taken by the United States and the Soviet Union in the exploration of the universe in the 1960s and 1970s," explains Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at Harvard-Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics. This is "one of the first times when the Chinese are doing something that no one has ever done".
China has been preparing for this particularly difficult operation from a technological point of view for years.
One of the biggest problems is communicating with the lunar robot. Since the dark face of the Moon is oriented in the opposite direction to Earth, there is no direct "line" for signal transmission.
China now hopes to take this technical step and to this end launch in May a Queqiao satellite in orbit on the moon to transmit commands and data exchanged between the Earth and the module.
During the lunar night, which lasts for 14 days, the temperatures are down to -173 degrees Celsius, and during the moon, which corresponds to 14 Earth's days, it can reach 127 ° C.
An even greater challenge is that Chang-e-4 was sent to the southern pole of the Moon, the Aitken Basin, whose terrain is particularly complex and steep, according to Chinese state media.
The ship must carry out studies on mineral resources, tomatoes and other plants, among others.
This is the second time China has sent a vehicle to explore the Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") moon surface in 2013, which has been active for 31 months.
Beijing plans to launch Chang e-5 next year to take the sample and bring it to Earth.
China is investing billions into its space program, commanding the army. It placed satellites in orbit for internal development (Earth observation, Beidou telecommunication or geolocation system) or for other countries.
He also hopes to send a robot to Mars and people to the moon.
In November, China presented a replica of its first major Tiangong space station ("Celestial Palace"), which it plans to launch from 2022 and succeed in the International Space Station (ISS).
The Chinese station should become the only station to fly in space after the planned ISS withdrawal, linking the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. However, it will be much smaller.