China launches relay satellite to explore Moon’s far side
China launched a relay satellite early Monday to set up a communication link between Earth and the planned Chang’e-4 lunar probe that will explore the mysterious far side of the Moon, which cannot be seen from Earth.
The satellite, named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge), was carried by a Long March-4C rocket that blasted off at 05:28 from southwest China’s Xichang Satellite Launch Center, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
About 25 minutes after liftoff, the satellite separated from the rocket and entered an Earth-Moon transfer orbit with the perigee at 200 km and the apogee at about 400,000 km. The solar panels and the communication antennas have been unfolded.
Queqiao is expected to enter a halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, about 455,000 km from the Earth. It will be the world’s first communication satellite operating in that orbit.
Chinese scientists and engineers hope the Queqiao satellite will form a communication bridge between controllers on Earth and the far side of the Moon where the Chang’e-4 lunar probe is expected to touch down later this year.
Two microsatellites were also launched at the same time and will enter highly elliptical lunar orbits to perform their astronomy tasks.
Monday’s launch was the 275th mission of the Long March rocket series.