Published: Sun, December 01, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

China ‘bigger threat than Russia’ after moon landing

China ‘bigger threat than Russia’ after moon landing

Since direct communication between Chang'e 4 and Earth is blocked because of the probe's position, China also launched a relay satellite called Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, that is now 400,000 km above Earth, positioned between it and the moon. That side has been observed many times from lunar orbit, but never up close.

Horgan's first chance came today, when the China National Space Administration (CNSA) revealed a picture of the Moon's far side. According to Andrew Jones, a journalist reporting on the Chinese space program, Chang'e 4's descent required "laser ranging and optical cameras for navigation, velocity, and coarse hazard avoidance".

The mission highlights China's growing ambitions to rival the U.S., Russian Federation and Europe in space, and more broadly, to cement its position as a regional and global power.

Nigel Inkster, the former director of operations and intelligence at MI6, now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said: "I don't think China has made any secret of its space ambitions and certainly there is a military element to that".

The spacecraft, which has a lander and a rover, was launched on top of a Long March 3B carrier rocket on December 8 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province.

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The public was kept in suspense about the landing itself for more than an hour after it occurred, with state broadcaster CCTV announcing it at the top of the noon news. By that time, speculation already had begun spreading on social media in China and overseas. The lander sent back images taken shortly after its touchdown as well as a photo of the rover slowly rolling across the dusty lunar surface.

The news cheered people on the streets of Beijing on Friday, many of whom said it showed that China can now achieve or even surpass what the United States has done. "On Mars, you can pick out smooth areas".

China started its lunar program in 2004 and in 2013 became the third country, behind the former Soviet Union and the USA, to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. The United States is the only country to successfully send astronauts to the moon - 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing - although China is considering a crewed mission too.

China will return to the moon in 2020 using the Chang'e 5 spacecraft that will perform lunar surveys and collect samples from the lunar surface and return them to Earth. The moon's dark side remains largely unexplored because its position shields it from radio frequencies, preventing direct contact with the Earth.

Chang'e-4 lunar probe mission - named after the moon goddess in Chinese mythology - was the second Chinese probe to land on the moon following the Yutu rover mission in 2013.

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