China Gears Up for Ambitious Landing on the Moon’s Far Side

The biggest problem is how to talk to a rover whose radio will be hidden from the Earth

4 min read
Image: Xinhua/Alamy
Touchdown: Humans will steer China’s Chang’e-4 lander through the first half of its descent to the moon’s surface. Then, the spacecraft will complete its landing autonomously.
Image: Xinhua/Alamy

In December, China will attempt the first soft landing of a spacecraft on the far side of the moon. No official date has been announced, but the mission is rumored for launch around 8 December, with a landing to follow late in the month.

Mission scientists say the capability to precisely land on a specific spot on the moon and conduct autonomous exploration from there will lay a foundation for future lunar and deep-space exploration, including expanded missions to the lunar poles in the early 2020s. But their ambitious effort requires new and improved communications, navigation, and landing technologies.

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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