China's first moon rover, named Jade Rabbit, landed on the lunar surface in 2013. A Chinese mission to the dark side of the moon is planned before the end of the decade. (Xinhua/AP)

China’s increasingly ambitious space program plans to attempt the first landing of a lunar probe on the moon’s far side, a leading engineer said.

The Chang’e 4 mission is planned for sometime before 2020, Zou Yongliao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ moon exploration department told state broadcaster CCTV in an interview broadcast last week.

Zou said the mission’s objective would be to study geological conditions on the moon’s far side, also known as the dark side. That could eventually lead to the placement of a radio telescope for use by astronomers, something that would help “fill a void” in man’s knowledge of the universe, Zou said.

Radio transmissions from Earth are unable to reach the moon’s far side, making it an excellent location for sensitive instruments.

China’s next lunar mission — an attempt to land an unmanned spaceship on the moon before returning to Earth with samples — is scheduled for 2017. If successful, that would make China only the third country after the United States and Russia to have carried out such a maneuver.

China’s lunar exploration program, named Chang’e after a mythical goddess, has already launched a pair of orbiting lunar probes, and in 2013 it landed a craft on the moon with a rover on board.

China has also hinted at a possible crewed mission to the moon. China sent its first astronaut into space in 2003 and has powered ahead with a series of methodically timed steps, including the deployment of an experimental space station.