China wants to be the first country to establish a base on the moon and says it will build it using 3D printing technology.
Officials from the Chinese space agency also said the country will return to the moon by the end of the year with the Chang’e-5 mission.
Three successive missions will further explore the barren surface and the viability of building houses there.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) said they also have plans to go to Mars in 2020, a timeline that would likely make them the first to do so, beating out the US, Russia and the plethora of private firms looking to colonise space.
China successfully achieved a global first with its trip to the far side of the moon when it landed in the Von Kármán crater on January 4.
Speaking at a conference earlier today, the high-ranking CNSA staff claimed the ground-breaking mission only cost the same as building one kilometer of underground railway.
The lander and its corresponding rover – Yutu-2 – sent back images of the equipment and the moonscape last week after the rover, called Jade Rabbit 2 in English, woke from an enforced ‘nap’.
Dr Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the National Space Administration and deputy commander of lunar exploration projects, said in a press conference: ‘Chang’e-5 will return mission sampling from the surface of the moon around the end of this year.
He added: ‘Our country’s first Mars exploration mission will take place before and after 2020.’
China is swiftly establishing a reputation as one of the forerunners in the renaissance of the space race with its continued investment in both Martian and lunar missions.
After Chang’e-5 returns lunar rocks from the surface the next mission, Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the moon.
Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in a comprehensive mission, it was claimed, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.
China, America, Russian and Europe are reportedly discussing whether to build a base station on the moon using 3D printing for example to build houses and other infrastructure.
Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project and if it is viable as a scientific base.
Chang’e-4’s 360° lens captured the Yutu-2 – or Jade Rabbit 2 – rover in front of the grey moonscape last week.
It revealed the potholed surface and barren expanse of land inside the mysterious Von Kármán crater near the lunar south pole.
Pictures posted on Chinese social media also showed that Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2, took images of each other.
This celestial photoshoot gives an astonishing look at the tandem of cutting-edge machinery that China is currently using to explore the previously unknown region.
Eternally immortalised tracks left from Yutu-2’s maiden voyage away from Chang’e-4 on January 4 can also be seen snaking over the untouched surface.
Jade Rabbit 2 entered ‘nap’ mode after the initial landing in order to survive the blistering 200°C (390°F) lunar daytime which lasts for 14 Earth days.
It was stirred from its forced slumber as the brutal temperatures subside ahead of the transition to a 300-hour-long lunar night.
Footage also emerged towards the end of the week of a first-person look at the final approach of Chang’e-4 as it completed its pioneering landing on the tempestuous terrain of the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin, the largest and deepest impact crater in the solar system.
A statement from the Chinese space agency, CNSA, said: ‘Researchers have completed the preliminary analysis of the lunar surface topography around the landing site based on the image taken by the landing camera.’
Chang’e-4, the Yutu-2 and the Queqiao relay satellite that beams data back to Earth are all ‘in a stable condition, and all work was carried out as planned,’ the statement concluded.
A post from the Yutu-2 rover’s social media account on Chinese microblogging website Weibo on January 11 at 11:22 Beijing time read: ‘Would you like to take a 360-degree moon walk? Here is a high-resolution panoramic photo of the moon taken by my fourth sister.
‘Just now, my fourth sister looked around and captured the environment around us with a ring-shaped topographic camera, which included me, can you see?’
China’s communist party has since issued a statement praising the endeavour which marks the first time the secretive government has formally recognised the mission’s success.
It was reported by China Central Television Station and read: ‘The central committee of the Community Party of China, State Council and Central Military Commission send messages of congratulation to the successful completion of the Chang’e 4 moon-probing project.’
The mission took a brief hiatus after landing to allow the machinery on Yutu-2 to shutdown and withstand the brutal lunar day.
Moon’s lunar day lasts for the equivalent of 14 Earth days and the lack of an atmosphere means the heat is relentless and unabated, unlike on Earth.
Yutu-2 updated its Weibo account, and the post read: ‘Noon nap is over. [It’s time to] get up and stretch my legs.’
The rover then resumed activities, which included taking a picture of the front side of the lander and exploration missions.
Another Weibo user, a Twitter-like microblogging site used in China, said: ‘Your nap is so long.’
Another added: ‘If you don’t get up now, your turnip will be snatched by the aliens.’
Twitter is blocked by the Chinese government but microblogging site Weibo is popular in the country and the posts from Yutu-2 have been made there.
The social media account followed up the announcement with a flippant tweet yesterday explaining why the stars were not visible in the images of Yutu-2 from Chang’e-4.
It read: ‘Good evening. These few days I have seen so many stars.
‘The moon is a place suitable for star-watching. No matter it’s day or night, the sky is always pitch black. Without the interruption of an atmosphere, the stars are light spots that don’t twinkle.
‘A day on the moon is more than 600 hours (about 27 earth days). It takes a star half a day to travel from one side of the horizon to the other.
‘So I can look at one star continuously for more than 300 hours.
‘The picture taken by my fourth sister (Chang’e 4), because the light ratio is too high, some details have gone missing. You cannot see the starry sky that I have seen. I’ll draw it for you.’
China’s space agency has said the mission ‘lifted the mysterious veil’ from the far side of the moon, which is never seen from Earth, and ‘opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration’.
Experts say that the craft will not be able to function indefinitely and may only be able to operate for as little as one day.
‘Of course, it’s never going to leave the Moon, so the question is really how long it can remain operational,’ said Professor Ian Crawford from the department of Earth and planetary sciences at Birkbeck College London
‘I suspect they will hope for at least one lunar day – 14 Earth days – after which, if it is still working, it will have to hibernate during the 14-day lunar night because it is solar powered, and hopefully wake up again afterwards.
‘That is a tall order because the lunar night is so cold – about -180°C (-292°F).’
A post from January 5 at 9:42pm GMT on the official account of the Yutu Lunar Rover explained why the rover went into ‘nap’ mode for the first time on January 5.
It said: ‘Ya, it’s getting hot here.
‘Right now, the back of the moon has entered the day time, there is no atmosphere to block the heat and the temperature will reach 200°C.
‘In order to protect important parts and avoid extreme condition, I have to take a siesta for a while.’
Yutu-2 rover explained how it would survive the harsh conditions on the barren surface of the moon after announcing the need for its rest.
‘My masters have given me thick insulating components. My golden jacket could reflect strong light,’ it continued.
‘There are variable heat conduction pipes, controllable two-phase electric fluidic circuits, etc. and they can control my temperature to under 55°C.
‘(I must feel proud that even the small Chinese flag on my chest can withstand high temperatures! There are no pictures, only an impression drawing. Here it is.)
The post also provided some insight about the Chang’e-4 lander which brought the rover to the surface by referring to the much larger lander as its ‘fourth sister’.
It continued: ‘[Its] heat control abilities are stronger than mine. She will still carry out a series of surveying works during my siesta. You’ve been working hard.’
Yutu-2’s Weibo post explained that during the machine did not actually turn off during the mid-day snooze. It simply entered a standby mode.
In this form it was charged up via solar panels, added to its ‘diary’, sent monitoring footage and provided readers with stories about the moon.
The post finished: ‘I didn’t expect to take a break after working only for one day, but it’s an important mission to protect oneself.
‘Master, remember to wake me up early when the work starts again.’
Zhang Yuhua, deputy chief commander of the mission, told Chinese state media: ‘After that, the rover will go to its planned area and start a series of scientific exploration projects in the Von Kármán crater as planned by scientists.’
It is expected that after a few days activity the lander will once again engage ‘nap mode’ to prepare for the lunar night.
This period of time lasts for 14 days and can see temperatures plummet to a frigid -180°C (-292°F).
The Yutu-2 – or Jade Rabbit 2 – rover drove off its lander’s ramp and onto the exterior of the moon’s far side at 10:22pm Beijing time (2:22 pm GMT) on January 3, about 12 hours after the Chinese spacecraft carrying it came to rest.
China’s space agency later posted a photos online, revealing the lunar rover several yards away from the spacecraft.
The tracks it makes on the surface of the moon will be forever immortalised and will never be lost as there is no wind on the moon due to its lack of an atmosphere.
By 5pm Beijing time (9am GMT) the three 15-foot long antennaes on Chang’e-4 had also been fully unfurled to enable the low-frequency radio spectrometre to begin work.
Jade Rabbit 2 has six individually powered wheels so it can continue to operate even if one wheel fails.
It can climb a 20-degree hill or an obstacle up to eight inches (20cm) tall and its maximum speed is said to be 220 yards (200 metres) per hour.
The pioneering rover is five feet (1.5 metres) long and about 3 feet (one metre) wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels.
Yutu-2 and its accompanying lander will carry out mineral, biological and radiation tests ahead of a future base that China hopes to build on the moon.
Results of these experiments could lead to new understandings of the challenges faced by settlers who may one day colonise our natural satellite.
‘It’s a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation,’ Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV.
‘This giant leap is a decisive move for our exploration of space and the conquering of the universe.’
The rover is equipped with a variety of scientific instruments to help it analyse the surface of the moon, including a panoramic and infrared camera, ground-penetrating radar and a low-frequency radio spectrometer.
Professor Crawford added: ‘While operational, it will rove around studying the composition of rocks, and the sub-surface using its ground-penetrating radar.
‘It will just be left on the Moon once it ceases to function, unless one day it is collected and brought back to a museum.’
The rover will use its panoramic camera to identify interesting locations and its Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS) will help analyse minerals in the crater.
This includes what scientists call ‘ejecta’ – rocks that have churned up from deep to the surface from impacts meteors.
Its Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) instrument will take a look down into the depths of the moon with a maximum vertical distance of approximately 300 feet (100 metres).
Experiments of seeds and plants that were taken to the moon from Earth on-board the Chang’e-4 probe will be done inside the lunar lander itself.
Unlike its predecessor, the Chang’e-3 mission, the latest addition to the moon’s surface does not have a robotic arm.
The lander also has a low-frequency radio spectrometer (LFS) which will be part of a scientific experiment to study space without the constant radio interference from Earth.
Being on the far side of the moon shields the equipment from the noise and will allow Chang’e-4 to produce a low-radio wave emission map of the sky.
Dr Matthew Bothwell, an astronomer at the University of Cambridge, told MailOnline that this could be a crucial step in the future of space exploration and compared its importance to that of the first telescope.
‘The far side of the moon is the only place in the reachable universe that we are able to do this kind of research.
‘Putting an object as large as the moon between the Earth’s constant beaming of radio waves and the antennaes is a fantastic way of filtering out noise from Earth.
‘Very long wavelength radiowaves are impossible to study due to their universal beaming of radio waves 24/7 and the emissions from the universe is really faint in comparison.’
Dr Bothwell added that there is no way of knowing what this could reveal and the opportunities for discovery are enormous.
‘It will provide a new window to look at the universe and we will likely find unexpected things,’ he added.
Dr Bothwell also said that depending on the success of the data gathered by Chang’e-4, it could lead to a ground-based telescope being installed on the far side of the moon.
The far side can’t be seen from Earth and is popularly called the ‘dark side’ because it is relatively unknown, not because it lacks sunlight.
As the landing is happening on the dark side of the moon it required its own satellite to be able to send information back.
To facilitate communication between controllers on Earth and the Chang’e-4 mission, China launched a relay satellite named Queqiao on 20 May and is now stationed in operational orbit about 40,000 miles beyond the moon.
This will be the primary form of communication between Earth and the spacecraft.
The probe and explorer will use Queqiao to get their findings back to China.
Its descent was also aided by the relay satellite, the Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge.
This is positioned at a place in space called L2, a Langraine point.
A Lagrange point is a spot in space where the combined gravitational forces of two large bodies are equivalent to the centrifugal force of another body.
L2 is a million miles beyond Earth in the opposite direction to the sun and for an object to remain stationary there it depends on a fragile equilibrium between the gravitational pull of the moon, Earth and the Sun.
The far side of the moon – colloquially known as the dark side – actually gets as much light as the near side but always faces away from Earth.
This is because the moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate that it orbits our planet, so the far side – or the ‘dark side’ – is never visible from our planet.
This relatively unexplored region is mountainous and rugged, making a successful landing much harder to achieve.
Beijing is pouring billions into the military-run programme, with hopes of having a crewed space station by 2022, and of eventually sending humans to the moon.
The Chang’e-4 lunar probe mission – named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology – launched in December 2018 from the southwestern Xichang launch centre.
It is the second Chinese probe to land on the moon, following the Yutu rover mission in 2013.
China announced that in honour of this success the rover on-board Chang’e-4 has been named Yutu 2.
Previous spacecraft have seen the far side of the moon, but none has landed on it.
The probe entered lunar orbit ‘to prepare for the first-ever soft landing on the far side of the moon’, the China National Space Administration said at the time.
The tasks of the Chang’e-4 include astronomical observation, surveying the moon’s terrain, landform and mineral composition, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment on the far side of the moon.
Researchers hope the seeds will grow to blossom on the Moon, with the process captured on camera and transmitted to Earth.
China aims to catch up with Russia and the United States to become a major space power by 2030.
It is planning to launch construction of its own manned space station next year and have its own lunar base by 2036.
Dr Bothwell said: ‘The success of the landing and of this mission puts china in a very strong position among other nations.
‘The co-operation between the space agencies is great for science and is a case of humanity working together to understand more about the mysteries and issues of the universe.
‘Possibly the best thing that could happen is another space race similar to the competition between the US and Russia in the 60s and 70s.
‘With ESA, Roscosmos and NASA all taking significant steps and the private space race between SpaceX and other firms hotting up, it could bring about a renaissance in space exploration.’