There's a really intriguing bit of space news coming out of China, shared by Mr. G.B. who spotted the article on China's Xinhua newsite. Notwithstanding the fact that its chemical factories are being blown up at an alarming rate, China wants to send a robotic lunar probe to the far side of the Moon. Yes, you read that correctly: to the far side of the Moon:
Needless to say, such a plan requires some extraordinary engineering skill, for the far side of the Moon is permanently "hidden" from view on Earth, making direct radio communications impossible. In short, if China wants to land something on the far side, and then collect data from the lander - which the article demonstrates China clearly wants to do - then this will require another platform, or perhaps even a few, in orbit around the Moon to make such communications possible at all times. Additionally, the project will require careful photo mapping of the far side, to select an appropriate landing site. And that, of course, recalls the mysterious disappearance of the Chinese-American photogrammetry expert from his academic position in Ohio that we blogged about last week.
But there's something else here, and Mr. G.B. pointed it out in his email to me, though he needn't have, for it would have grabbed my attention anyway, and it probably already grabbed yours as well. And that item brings me to the high octane speculation of the day(some of which, in fact, is Mr. G.B.'s high octane speculation, which I'm simply relaying to you. I happen to agree with it); that high octane speculation is that China definitely appears to be looking for something:
Zou said government organs have ordered experts to assess the plan over the past 12 plus months. "China will be the first to complete the task if it is successful."
The State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense announced earlier this year that Chang'e-4 will be launched before 2020.
The far side of the moon, or "dark side of the moon" as it is more commonly called, is never visible to Earth because of gravitational forces. According to Zou, the far side of the moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low frequency radio study. "If we can can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void."
And note this about the Chang 5 lander:
China plans to launch its Chang'e-5 lunar probe around 2017 to finish the last chapter in China's three-step (orbiting, landing and return) moon exploration program.
Li Chunlai, one of the main designers of the lunar probe ground application system, said Chang'e-5 will achieve several breakthroughs, including automatic sampling, ascending from the moon without a launch site and an unmanned docking 400,000 kilometers above the lunar surface.
Now, putting all that together, we get this:
- China is sending a lander to the Moon's surface which will get "something" (presumable the usual "soil sample" and "Moon rocks"), and then
- will be capable of launching from the lunar surface to an unmanned docking, with an orbiting platform which
- presumably then will return the "rocks" and "soil" to the Earth for examination. Meanwhile,
- China plans to land on the far side of the Moon in the cleaner electromagnetic environment with a frequency spectrograph on the lander (and, one can only guess, per Mr. G.B.'s email suggestions to me, radar tomography and a host of other interesting instruments). China wants to listen to the Moon (or perhaps something else), determine its composition, and so on. At the minimum, China is prospecting.
In other words, China is looking for something, and given the difficulties of getting to the far side and landing there(after mapping it and establishing the orbital communications links), I suspect it may be about more than just moon rocks and soil samples.
See you on the flip side...