China’s long lunar march takes the next step
Weekend launch sets the scene for a landing on the far side of the moon.
The successful launch of the Queqiao satellite on the weekend represents the next stage in the China National Space Administration’s ambitious lunar exploration program, which should culminate later this year with the first ever landing of a spacecraft on the far side of the moon.
Queqiao blasted off on Sunday aboard a Long March 4C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre (XSLC) in Sichuan Province.
It is destined to establish a stable lunar orbit, where it will serve as a communication unit for the upcoming Chang’e-5 mission, which will carry a variety of Chinese and European instruments – including a rover – to a landing site in the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.
Queqiao, which has a projected lifespan of five years, will serve as a link between the equipment on the Moon’s surface, and mission control back in China.
Going into orbit with the main satellite will be two smaller units, used for radio astronomy and amateur radio.
China is working towards a crewed lunar mission, but its launch is estimated to be still 15 years away.