China has launched a satellite meant to explore the dark side of the moon, Reuters news agency reported today.
The relay satellite aims to establish a communication link between the Earth and a planned lunar probe, which is supposed to explore our planet's only permanent natural satellite.
"The launch is a key step for China to realize its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land on and rove the far side of the moon," Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, told reporters.
The satellite is known as Magpie Bridge or Queqiao, and it is meant to settle in an orbit about 282,555 miles from our planet. This would make it the world's first communication satellite operating there.
China, which is currently in a space race with Russia and the United States, wants to become a major space power by 2030, and is planning to launch its own space station sometime next year.
Yesterday, as The Verge reported, China launched its first ever private rocket. This move signifies the development of a commercial space race in China. The rocket was launched by a private spaceflight company called OneSpace Technologies, based out of Beijing.
Until yesterday, China's space industry was dominated by the country's government space agency, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), but this has officially changed with yesterday's launch. Apart from facing competition from privately-owned American companies, OneSpace Technologies already has plenty competition at home to deal with, The Verge noted.
OneSpace Technologies launched its OS-X rocket from on a suborbital trajectory, reaching an altitude of 25 miles and traveling about 170 miles before falling back to Earth. The company said this launch just demonstrates what is yet to come - a sustainable business model.
In 2014, the Chinese government formally allowed private companies to start working on launching satellites, so it is safe to infer that OneSpace Technologies will have domestic competition either way.
Along with private companies, the China National Space Administration seems to have entered the international, as well as the domestic space race. The Queqiao satellite is, according to planetary.org, a "bridge between Earth and the mysterious lunar farside."
This is China's fourth lunar mission. The Queqiao satellite weighs 936 pounds and has a planned lifetime of 5 years minimum. It was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology. Besides its main communications function, the satellite will also carry out scientific tests and measurements.