A Long March-4C rocket roared to life last night, lighting up the night skies over China and opening up the next chapter of lunar exploration. Aboard the rocket: an innovative lunar relay orbiter and a ground-breaking radio astronomy experiment.
The launch occurred at 21:28 UT from Xichang Space Center in Sichuan, China. This orbiter is part of China's ambitious first attempt to deploy a lander and rover on the farside of the Moon later this year. All lunar landings to date, including the Apollo missions and China's 2013 Yutu Jade Rabbit lander and rover, have been conducted on the Moon's near side, within sight of Earth and radio communications. Chang'e 4, however, will land and rove on the farside of the Moon, requiring a dedicated relay.