The Chinese have supplied a video of the first landing of a spacecraft on the far side of the Moon. The Chang’e-4 spacecraft included a lidar sensor that allowed it to make last minute corrections in the landing area.
The Chang’e-4 spacecraft touched down on the far side of the Moon, which never faces the Earth, at 02:26 UTC on January 3, deploying the Yutu-2 rover 12 hours later, but this is the first full footage we’ve seen of the landing.
The footage comes from the descent camera which initially gives a view ahead of Chang’e-4 over the 186-km-diameter Von Kármán crater, which contains the preselected landing site.
The video shows how, as the craft descends, it is extremely difficult to visually gain any sense of distance to the surface before the landing.
How did Chang’e-4 land?
At around one minute into the footage we see the spacecraft rotate 90 degrees following the main deceleration phase of the descent, to give a vertical view onto the lunar surface.
At this point Chang’e-4 should be around 6 kilometres above the Moon, with the lander receiving distance and velocity data from its laser range sensor.
During this approach phase Chang’e-4 makes a number of manoeuvres as part of coarse hazard avoidance based on optical imaging, all of which are automated processes.
At around 100 metres 3D laser scanning imaging provided elevation data, as illustrated in the animation above, as part of a hovering phase which allowed for avoidance of hazards on the surface which could have threatened the landing.
Just after two minutes we see the final descent onto Von Kármán crater and the exhaust from the main engine interacting with the surface.
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