The Queqiao satellite is a vital component of the Chang’e 4 mission, China’s historic attempt to be the first nation that performs a soft landing on the far (or dark) side of the moon by the end of the year.
The spacecraft successfully braked about 62 miles (or 100 kilometers) from the lunar surface, just like it was instructed to do by a ground control center in Beijing.
“There was only a short window for the braking. And Queqiao had only one chance due to limited fuel,” Zhang Lihua, project manager of the mission, told Xinhua.
Queqiao then entered a transfer orbit, which will carry the 900-pound satellite to its designated halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system.
The Queqiao satellite will be adjusting its orbit several times until it reaches the L2 point, located about 283,000 miles (nearly 455,000 kilometers) from our planet, officials from the China National Space Administration (CNSA) conveyed on May 26.
Named after a Chinese folktale, Queqiao means “bridge of magpies” and will literally bridge communications between Earth and a rover-lander duo that China will be launching to the far side of the moon later this year.
This second stage of the Chang’e 4 mission is expected to reach the lunar surface in December and will be the first spacecraft in history to explore the moon’s dark side.
The Queqiao satellite has been designed to last for three years in space and will relay signals from the mysterious lunar far side to ground-based communication centers on Earth.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the rover-lander pair will be launched atop a Long March 4C rocket and deployed about 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) behind the moon, thereby enabling communications between Earth and the dark side of the moon.
According to Space.com, the CNSA has chosen as the landing site for its pioneering spacecraft the southern floor of the Von Karman crater. This 112-mile-wide (180 kilometers) crater lies within the South Pole-Aitken basin, the oldest and the deepest impact feature on the moon.
The South Pole-Aitken basin stretches for more than 1,553 miles (2,500 kilometers) across and reveals the deepest parts of the moon’s crust, having a rim-to-floor distance more than six times as deep as the Grand Canion.
China already has experience with putting a rover and a lander on the moon. In 2013, the Chang’e 3 mission landed the Yutu rover on the near lunar side, the one that always faces the Earth.
“Chang’e 3 lunar probe used a slow and arc-shaped landing, while as for Chang’e 4 lunar probe, we have to adopt a steep and almost vertical landing,” Zhao Xiaojin, a senior official at the China Serospace Science and Technology, said in a statement in March.
The moon’s so-called “dark side” isn’t actually dark, clarifies Space.com. The far lunar side receives light from the sun when the moon sits between Earth and our giant star.