Chinese spacecraft makes first-ever landing on far side of the moon

An image of the rover for China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe

An image of the rover for China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe

China's Chang'e-4 lunar probe is expected to make the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon.

The Long March 3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 blasted off on December 8 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southern China.

China National Space Administration has said that Chang'e 4's scientific tasks included astronomical observation using low-frequency radio; surveying the terrain and land forms; detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure; and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms - all to develop an understanding of the environment on the moon's far side, also called the dark side.

Karl Bergquist, the European Space Agency's global relations administrator, is quoted by China Daily as saying that the Chang'e-4 mission is scientifically and technologically "very impressive" because "no one has ever done it, this mission will therefore advance our knowledge of the moon".

Chinese state media said at the time that the area being targeted was the Aitken Basin in the lunar south pole region and 10 experiments would be performed - six from China and four from other countries.

One of those experiments is a biosphere project, which includes silkworm eggs, thale cress and potato seeds.

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Chang'e 3: First unmanned Moon landing of the Chang'e effort.

The far side of the moon is relatively unexplored and communication is hard because it always points away from Earth and signals could be blocked.

In May, a relay satellite "Queqiao", or "Magpie Bridge", named after an ancient Chinese folk tale, was launched to provide communications support between Chang-e 4 and Earth.

Unlike the near side of the moon that is "tidally locked" and always faces the earth - complete with many flat areas to touch down on - the far side is mountainous and rugged.

The move marks a step towards China's ambition to become a leading power in space exploration alongside the USA and Russian Federation.

China, which is investing billions in its military-run space programme, has previously said it hopes to have a crewed space station by 2022.

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