The Chinese aims on the "dark side of the moon"

(To Antonio Vecchio)

Exactly fifty years after the first landing, at the 0226 GMT of the 3 last January the Chinese probe Chang'e-4 it landed on the moon, transmitting the first "close-up" images of its most distant part: the so-called "dark", perpetually hidden from the terrestrial view.

26 party days before from the Xichang satellite launch base, in Sichuan province, the carrier (Long March -3B) that also carried a rover (Yutu 2), reached XBZ after days of travel the elliptical lunar orbit, waiting for the appropriate time to make the landing.

The announcement, reported by the main international agencies1, was given with understandable pride by all the governing bodies of Beijing, and presented as a further step in the Chinese race for technological dominance.

Space as a competitive frontier, as well as a new military dimension, is among the priorities of the current management, which financially supports the research programs of the main national universities and the research and development of private companies.

In grasping the significance of this anniversary, the parallel of today's China, a technological superpower and a global geopolitical actor, must not be overlooked, with that of 20 in July 1969 - when Neil Armstrong rested for the first time on our main satellite - at the time, in full cultural revolution, mainly agricultural and very poor.

Also noteworthy is the fact that the Chinese probe is the first to reach the "hidden" lunar soil; NASA in the 1962 had also tried, but the module Ranger 4 crashed to the ground.

Chang'e-4 - reports the Chinese space agency - will be used for astronomical observation, for surveys of the lunar terrain and environment, to determine the composition of the atmosphere and the mineral composition of its rocks.

The launch of Chang'e-4 it is part of a more complex program that - according to China Daily2 - will lead, within the 2030, to the construction of a lunar station entirely managed by robots and artificial intelligence.

The Chinese probe's landing was made possible by the launch of a satellite - "Queqiao" - launched the 20 last May, which secured ground-to-probe communications.

The placement of Queqiao in one of the points of Lagrange L2 - (in space, the points3 "In which two bodies with large mass, through the interaction of the respective gravitational force, allow a third body with a much lower mass to maintain a stable position relative to them") -, in addition to allowing communications with the probe, otherwise hampered by the lunar mass, it gives China a major strategic advantage in view of a possible exploitation as a router for a future interplanetary internet.

Beijing's lunar program develops simultaneously with the American one called Artemide, which has the intention of bringing astronauts back to the moon within 2024; however, there is currently no intention to compete in a space race with Washington.

The Chinese do not want to repeat the mistake of the USSR which also capitulated for the space race in which it was dragged by the USA.

Beijing is (at the moment) interested in something else. To start with, the space industry4 which is estimated to reach the value of a trillion dollars within the 2040.

Of no less interest is the exploitation of the resources present in the lunar crust: like helium, a very rare inert gas on Earth but abundant in the lunar soil. Helium offers many applications, ranging from magnetic resonance devices in hospitals to hypersonic wind tunnels in military research facilities.

Some of its isotopes can also be used as fuel for nuclear fusion reactors, and in the future provide an unlimited source of clean energy (currently the United States produces more than 80% worldwide).

The Beijing programs also include experimentation with lunar dust as a building material, on a large scale with the help of 3D printing technology.

Finally, it seems useless to underline how the spatial posture of Beijing cannot ignore military considerations, since it is a field of potential, a future contrast with America, as demonstrated by the recent establishment in the USA of a dedicated command5 (US Space Command).






Photo: CNSA / US DoD