Chinese spacecraft makes first landing on the far side of the moon

China has deeper space exploration "in its sights" after becoming the first nation to land a spacecraft on the so-called 'dark side' of the moon.

The landing of Chang'e 4 was announced on Thursday by state broadcaster China Central Television and highlights China’s growing ambitions as a space power.

Before now, the United States, the former Soviet Union and China had sent missions to the near side of the moon, which faces Earth.

But this is the first time any nation has landed a craft on the far side, which has a different composition.

A photo taken by the lunar explorer Chang’e 4 at 11.40am China time (3.40 GMT) showed a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the probe.

Because of the landing site's location, a relay satellite launched in May is being used to send information between Chang'e 4 and Earth.

How the rover might look on the surface of the moon. Credit: Twitter/CGTN official

Chang’e 4 - a name derived from a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia - touched down on the surface just over an hour earlier at 10.26am China time.

The craft's launch on December 7 was hailed as one of the country's major achievements of 2018.

"On the whole, China's space technology still lags behind the West, but with the landing on the far side of the moon, we have raced to the front," said Hou Xiyun, a professor at Nanjing University's school of astronomy and space science.

He added that China has Mars, Jupiter and asteroids in its sights, saying: "There's no doubt that our nation will go farther and farther."

In 2013, Chang’e 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the then-Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976.

The difference between the near (left) and far side of the moon is visible. Credit: NASA

The United States is the only country that has sent people to the moon, although China is considering a crewed mission too.

For now, it plans to send its Chang'e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples, something also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

Chang'e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the structure and mineral composition of the terrain above and below the surface.

It will plant potato and other seeds as part of biological experiments.

Chang'e 4's launch on December 8 was hailed as a major achievements. Credit: AP

“The far side of the moon is a rare quiet place that is free from interference of radio signals from Earth,” mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to Xinhua.

“This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution.”

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project, called the landing a trailblazing milestone.

"Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue," he said in an interview with CCTV in Beijing. "And we're gradually realising it."

China is using a satellite to beam images back. Credit: China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP