The China National Space Administration has released a series of three photos taken by its Longjiang-2 mini-satellite currently in orbit around the moon, Gizmodo reports, citing the Chinese media outlet Xinhua.
The images, made public on June 14, reveal the lunar surface, showing part of the Mare Imbrium, one of the largest craters in the solar system, with our planet looming in the background.
According to a 2016 study, this vast, dark lava plain located in the moon’s Imbrium Basin may have been shaped into existence by a collision with a massive celestial object the size of a protoplanet, EarthSky reported at the time.
This exciting view of the Earth as seen from the moon was made possible thanks to the optical camera installed on the 20-inch-wide CubeSat and which was built by Saudi Arabia at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Riyadh.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, the Chinese mini-satellite blasted off into space on May 20, together with its twin, Longjiang-1. The two lunar probes hitched a ride on the same Long March 4C rocket that launched the Queqiao relay satellite — an instrumental part in China’s upcoming Chang’e 4 mission to the dark side of the moon.
While a malfunction stopped Longjiang-1 in its tracks, resulting in the loss of the spacecraft, its sister satellite, Longjiang-2, made it all the way to the moon and used its propulsion system to enter an elliptical lunar orbit on May 25, notes SpaceNews.
Three days later, the satellite’s KACST-built camera became operational and has already “conducted observations of the moon and acquired a series of clear lunar images and data,” states the Xinhua June 14 report.
In spite of the loss of one satellite, astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, believes that the Longjiang program marks a turning point in Chinese CubeSat technology.
The surviving lunar probe is expected to become a trailblazer, just like the much smaller NASA MarCO twin satellites currently on route to Mars.
“I think in the decade to come, we’ll continue to see ambitious, large planetary probes, like the European-Japanese Bepi-Colombo and China’s Chang’e-4 which are both preparing for launch, but we’ll also see the flourishing of these small, simple and highly focused probes,” McDowell told SpaceNews.
“Perhaps in 10 years we’ll see big smallsat constellations in the inner solar system for interplanetary comms, GPS, space weather and asteroid searches,” he added.
The Longjiang-2 microsat is tasked with conducting low-frequency radio-astronomy research and amateur radio experiments. The 103-pound (47-kilogram) mini-satellite was also supposed to test space-based interferometry together with Longjiang-1 — which has been officially confirmed as lost by China’s State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense.