China successfully launched a satellite in the early hours this morning designed to relay communications between the Earth and an upcoming lunar lander aimed for the Moon’s far side.
The landing site for this mission is expected to be the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin. If successful, this will be the first spacecraft to land on the far side of the Moon.
As such, a communication relay will be required to communicate with Earth. Queqiao [the communication satellite’s name] will provide that role. Launched to an eventual L2 Halo Orbit (Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange Point), the satellite will have a lifetime of five years, covering both this and potentially another Chang’e mission.
The spacecraft is based on the CAST100 small satellite platform, with commonality to the often used DFHSat system that finds its way on to a number of Chinese spacecraft. It has a mass of 425kg and uses a hydrazine propulsion system. It will transmit telemetry back to Earth via its S-band antenna, while X-band data will provide the communication path between the lander and rover.
This Chinese lander could also be the first to confirm the existence of water ice on the lunar surface.
With this launch China once again ties the U.S. in launches for 2018. The leaders: