China’s Queqiao Satellite Enters Lunar Orbit, Gears Up For The Chang’e 4 Mission To The Dark Side Of The Moon

The 'Magpie Bridge' relay satellite, the first stage of China's historic Chang’e 4 mission to the dark side of the moon, has reached its designated halo orbit around the L2 point 40,000 miles beyond the moon.

Dark side of the moon.
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The 'Magpie Bridge' relay satellite, the first stage of China's historic Chang’e 4 mission to the dark side of the moon, has reached its designated halo orbit around the L2 point 40,000 miles beyond the moon.

After a journey through space which lasted more than 20 days, the Queqiao relay satellite has finally reached its destination, settling into a halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, the Chinese news service Xinhua announced on June 14.

As the Inquisitr previously reported, the communications satellite — whose moniker means “Magpie Bridge” and was inspired by a Chinese folktale — was launched on May 20 as the first part of China’s historic Chang’e 4 mission to the far side of the moon.

The satellite lifted off from Xichang in the southwestern Sichuan Province of China, together with two other spacecraft — a pair of mini-satellites dubbed Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2, the latter already beaming back photos of Earth taken from lunar orbit, the Inquisitr reported earlier today.

The Queqiao relay satellite braked to enter its designated orbit around the moon five days after its launch, the Inquisitr reported at the time, coming within 62 miles (100 kilometers) of the lunar surface on May 25.

Some three weeks later, the Chinese satellite is now sitting tight on its’s orbit around L2, about 40,000 miles (65,000 kilometers) behind the moon, notes SpaceNews.

According to the Chinese sources, the satellite received the command to fire its engines at 11:00 p.m. EDT on June 13 (11:06 a.m. on June 14 local Xichang time) and completed the burn six minutes later.

Zhang Hongtai, president of the China Academy of Space Technology, commented on the success of this first stage of the Chang’e 4 mission to the dark side of the moon.

“The satellite is the world’s first communication satellite operating in that orbit and will lay the foundation for the Chang’e-4, which is expected to become world’s first probe soft-landing and roving on the far side of the moon.”

The “Magpie Bridge” satellite will be living up to its name and help bridge the communications between Earth and the rover-lander pair that China is shipping off to lunar far side later this year.

If everything goes as planned, China will be making history by the end of 2018 as the first nation to perform a soft landing on the dark side of the moon.

The main job of the Queqiao satellite is to transmit commands from the ground control station to the rover-lander duo, which is expected to touch down near the Von Kármán crater within the South Pole-Aitken Basin in December.

To relay communications from Earth to the lunar far side, Queqiao relies on a 4.2-meter parabolic antenna that will “transmit data and telemetry back to Earth via S-band, while using X-band to communicate with the lander and rover,” SpaceNews explains.

But the Chinese satellite also has a side job of scoping the cosmos in search for radio signals that might be coming from way back in time, “from the cosmic dark ages, before emission of light by the first stars in the universe,” notes the media outlet.

This secondary astronomy experiment, dubbed the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer, will be carried out with the help of three 5-meter-long antennas, which are to be deployed once the rover-lander make it to the lunar far side. These antennas will be analyzing the solar wind near the moon, as reported by the Inquisitr last month.