China's Chang'e 4 unmanned lunar mission has been proceeding well and its scientific findings will be made available for free to anyone wishing to access them, according to a key figure in the nation's lunar program.
Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar exploration program and also a national political adviser, told reporters at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday that the Chang'e 4 unmanned lunar probe, which consists of a lander and a robotic rover, is in good condition and is working well after a second dormancy period on the lunar surface.
The probe has completed a topographical investigation of its landing vicinity. The rover, named Yutu 2, or Jade Rabbit 2, is moving to the northwest toward rough terrain to continue its scientific tasks, he said.
"The Chang'e 4 mission has collected a lot of scientific data that will soon be available to the whole world," Wu said.
China will send its Chang'e 5 robotic probe to the moon around the end of this year and then use the spacecraft to bring samples back to Earth. If the mission is successful, China will become the third nation after the United States and the former Soviet Union to bring lunar soil back, he said.
Wu added that China plans to launch its first Mars probe in 2020. The unmanned probe is set to orbit Mars and then land on the red planet, he said.
China began its lunar program in 2004, and the country has launched four probes since 2007. The latest, Chang'e 4, rode atop a Long March 3B rocket in December after achieving liftoff at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.
After a four-and-a-half-day journey and about 22 days of preparations in lunar orbit, the probe made a soft landing on the far side of the moon on Jan 3, becoming the world's first spacecraft to land there.
Zhang He, executive director of the Chang'e 4 program at the China Academy of Space Technology, said that as no probe had landed on the far side before, all scientific information Chang'e 4 obtains will be new to the world.
The next lunar probe, Chang'e 5, will weigh about 8.2 metric tons and will be the largest and heaviest lunar probe made by China. It will consist of four components－orbiter, lander, ascender and re-entry module. The probe will be sent by China's largest carrier rocket, the Long March 5, from the Wenchang Space Launch Center on the island province of Hainan.