China is getting set to launch the first-ever surface mission to the moon's far side.
The robotic Chang'e 4 mission is scheduled to launch atop a Long March 3B rocket on Friday (Dec. 7) at around 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT; 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 8 local China time).
If all goes according to plan, Chang'e 4's lander-rover duo will touch down within the moon's South Pole?Aitken (SPA) basin after a 27-day flight, then study both the surface and subsurface of this region. [China's Moon Missions Explained (Infographic)]
Both the lander and the rover were designed as backups for China's successful Chang'e 3 mission, which put a lander and a rover named Yutu down on the moon in December 2013.
As a prelude to the Chang'e 4, China launched the Queqiao relay satellite this past May. Queqiao is now positioned at the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point — a place where the spacecraft can handle communications between ground controllers and the lander-rover mission on the far side.
China's Yutu moon rover, photographed on the lunar surface by the Chang'e 3 lander on Dec. 16, 2013. The Chang'e 4 mission to the lunar far side, which is scheduled to launch on Dec. 7, 2018, was designed as a backup for Chang'e 3.
Credit: CASC/China Ministry of Defense
Lots of scientific gear
Chang'e 4 is expected to touch down in Von Kármán Crater, within the SPA basin.
In a study published last month, Yingzhuo Jia, of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues laid out the mission's chief scientific objectives. (Jia is also with the State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, National Space Science Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.)