China is one step closer to landing on the dark side of the Moon

Beijing announced the launch of a satellite to serve as a communication link with a probe that should land on the far side of the moon.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China is closer to fulfilling its space ambitions with the launch of a relay satellite to set up a communication link between the Earth and the country's planned lunar probe, China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced today in a statement.

"The launch is a key step for China to realise its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the moon," Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, the Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

China has confirmed it plans to send a spacecraft to land on the moon's "dark side" before 2020. It first announced in 2015 its intention to have the Chang'e-4 lunar probe touch down on the far side of the moon. The launch is expected to take place later this year.

The CNSA said Queqiao, which means "magpie bridge" in Chinese, was carried by Chinese-built Long March-4C rocket (pictured), blasting off shortly before 5:30 am Monday from the Xichang space launch centre in southwestern China.

The satellite separated from the rocket about 25 minutes after liftoff -- and entered a transfer orbit between the Earth and the moon with its solar panels and communication antennas successfully unfolded.

But the mission still faces numerous challenges ahead, according to project manager Zhang, including multiple adjustments to its final orbit, braking near the moon and taking advantage of the lunar gravity.