China on Monday launched a relay satellite to provide communications between the Earth and a small robot that should be deployed on the far side of the Moon in 2018, according to the Chinese Space Agency.
The Long March 4C, also known as the Chang Zheng 4C rocket took off at 5:28 am local time from the Xichang launch pad (Southwest) with the Queqiao satellite, which is currently continuing into space, said the Chinese National Space Administration.
Upon the arrival of the remote-controlled robot on the Moon, the satellite will be at a place where it can exchange with the Earth while having in its line of sight the hidden face of the Moon.
"This launch is a crucial step for China to become the first country to send a probe able to smoothly glide and explore the dark side of the moon," said Zhang Lihua, head of the satellite project, quoted by the China News Agency.
The satellite will allow control by technicians left on Earth of the Chang'e-4 robot, which takes its name from a goddess of Chinese mythology.
The hidden face of the Moon refers to the hemisphere of the lunar body that is not visible from Earth. She has been photographed since 1959 but has never been explored.
The robot will be sent by the end of 2018 in the South Pole-Aitken basin, an area supposed to have great potential for research, according to new China.
It will be the second Chinese unmanned vehicle on the moon. In 2013, China had already landed a rover named "Jade Bunny". He had periods of the coma but had finally been able to survey the lunar surface for 31 months, well beyond its expected life.
Another robot (Chang'e-5) is expected to be sent to the Moon in 2019 to collect samples and bring them back to Earth.
China invests billions of euros in its space program, coordinated by the army. The country hopes to have an inhabited space station by 2022, and eventually send humans to the moon.