The new colonial movement: Chinese engineers have decided to extend the mission of the Chang’e-5 lunar orbiter by shifting its orbit so that it is transferred to one of the five Sun-Earth Lagrange points.
Amateur radio operators first confirmed the Chang’e-5 orbiter was still in space and heading towards the moon. Official confirmation has now been provided as to the spacecraft’s status.
Hu Hao, a chief designer of the third (sample return) phase of the Chinese lunar exploration program, told China Central Television (Chinese) Dec. 20 that the orbiter is now on an extended mission to a Sun-Earth Lagrange point. Hu said the extended mission was made possible by the accurate orbital injection by the Long March 5 launch vehicle, the same rocket which failed in July 2017 and delayed Chang’e-5 by three years. The Chang’e-5 orbiter has more than 200 kilograms of propellant remaining for further maneuvers.
While unspecified, it is believed that the Chang’e-5 orbiter will enter orbit around L1, based on the reference to planned solar observations. The orbiter is equipped with optical imagers. The team will decide on a further destination after tests and observations have been conducted, Hu said.
It makes great sense to keep the orbiter operating, and since lunar orbits tend to be unstable, going to a Lagrange point makes even more sense.
However, this decision raises an interesting point for the future. There are only five Lagrange points in the Earth-Sun system. All have great value. All also can likely sustain a limited number of satellites and spacecraft. Who coordinates their operations? What happens if China fills each with its spacecraft? For example, the James Webb Space Telescope is aiming for Lagrange point #2, a million miles from Earth in the Earth’s shadow. While Chang’e-5 is presently heading to a different point, what happens if China changes its mind and puts Chang’e-5 in Webb’s way?
As far as I know, there has been no discussion of this issue in international circles.
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