A Chinese cubesat, launched as a secondary payload with China’s lunar communications satellite for its upcoming Chang’e-4 mission, used a Saudi Arabian camera to successfully send back its first images this week.
Two of the three images show the Earth rising above the lunar horizon. The third looks down at the Moon’s cratered surface.
These images I think are the first interplanetary images ever taken and successfully transmitted to Earth by a interplantary cubesat mission. Both China and Saudi Arabia should be lauded for the success. It proves that cubesats have the potential to do everything that fullsize satellites do, at much lower cost, and therefore marks the beginning of a revolution in unmanned planetary spacecraft design.
In related news, that lunar communications satellite has now officially reached its Lagrande point.
The satellite, named Queqiao (Magpie Bridge) and launched on May 21, entered the Halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, about 65,000 km from the Moon, at 11:06 a.m. Thursday after a journey of more than 20 days. “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 the world’s first soft-landing, roving probe on the far side of the Moon,” said Zhang Hongtai, president of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
The concept of the Halo orbit around the Earth-Moon L2 point was first put forward by international space experts in 1950s.
While in orbit, the relay satellite can see both the Earth and the far side of the Moon. The satellite can stay in the Halo orbit for a long time due to its relatively low use of fuel, since the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity balances the orbital motion of the satellite.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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