The Chang’e-4 is attempting to land in the Von Kármán crater, a flatter region located within the South Pole-Aitken Basin, which is over 2,500km in diameter, and thought to have been formed by a giant collision early in the Moon’s history.
The spacecraft, which includes a lander and rover, is carrying a set of instruments aiming to take detailed measurements of the crater’s terrain and mineral composition as well as conducting a biological experiment.
If successful, Chang’e-4 will pave the way for China to deliver samples of lunar rock and dust to Earth.
The venture is an important step in China’s ambitions to overtake the US and Russia as a world leader in space exploration, which include plans to put a person on the Moon and sending a mission to Mars by 2025.
“This daring mission will land nearly 50 years on from the historic Apollo landings and will be followed in late 2019 by a Chinese sample return mission,” Andrew Coates, professor of physics at UCL’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Surrey, told the BBC. Prof Coates added that the information gleaned from the mission “will be hugely valuable in understanding the formation of the Moon”.
Scientists also believe the far side of the Moon is a good place to perform radio astronomy. The Chang’e-4’s spacecraft is carrying an instrument that will test the “electromagnetic cleanliness” of the location to assess the possibility of eventually placing a telescope there.