BEIJING: China aims to become the first country to land a lunar probe on the dark side of the moon to study the geological conditions of the invisible part of Earth's only natural satellite, a top scientist has said.
The ambitious mission will be carried out by Chang'e-4, a backup probe for Chang'e-3, and is slated to be launched before 2020, said Zou Yongliao from the moon exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Zou said government organs have ordered experts to assess the plan for the past more than 12 months.
"China will be the first to complete the task if it is successful," Zou was quoted as saying by the state-run Xinhua news agency.
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," Zou said, adding that Chang'e-4 is very similar to Chang'e-3 in structure but can handle more
It will be used to study the geological conditions of the dark side of the moon.
China plans to launch its Chang'e-5 lunar probe around 2017 to finish the last chapter in its three-step (orbiting, landing and return) moon exploration programme.
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.
Chang'e-5 will also have a new launch site and launch rockets, Li said.
Chang'e-3 landed on the moon in 2013, making China the third country after Russia and the US to soft land a spacecraft on lunar soil.