TechChina launches key satellite to bridge Earth and Moon's dark side

China launches key satellite to bridge Earth and Moon's dark side

Queqiao-2 - new Chinese satellite
Queqiao-2 - new Chinese satellite
Images source: © Getty Images | VCG

4:45 PM EDT, March 20, 2024

The Chinese have launched a key satellite that will aid in researching the dark side of the Moon. Named Queqiao-2, it will act as a communication bridge, connecting Earth-based operations with the lunar mission.

On Wednesday, the People's Republic of China advanced its Moon research program by launching a satellite crucial for communication. According to state media, this satellite will facilitate communication between Earth and the forthcoming mission to the far side of the Moon.

Queqiao-2's main task is to orbit the Moon and relay signals to and from the Chang'e-6 mission, which is set for a May launch. As a robotic mission, Chang'e-6 aims to collect samples from one of the Moon's oldest basins, marking the first time materials from the Moon's hidden side are gathered.

But Queqiao-2's role extends beyond just one mission. It will also act as a relay for future Moon missions - Chang'e-7 in 2026 and Chang'e-8 in 2028. Looking ahead to 2040, Queqiao-2 is expected to be part of a constellation of relay satellites that will facilitate communication for manned Moon missions and explorations of other planets, such as Mars and Venus.

Along with Queqiao-2, two mini satellites, Tiandu-1 and -2, were launched. Their mission involves conducting tests critical for building a constellation of satellites designed to support communication, navigation, and remote sensing for the upcoming Chinese research station at the Moon's south pole.

Queqiao-2 is set to replace Queqiao-1, launched in 2018, and is expected to be operational for at least eight years. Queqiao-1, weighing only a third of Queqiao-2 and with a five-year lifespan, was the first relay satellite positioned on the far side of the Moon.

In 2019, the spacecraft Chang'e-4 accomplished the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon, a milestone reported by Chinese state media.

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