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China just launched a spacecraft that will help pave the way for a historic mission to the moon's far side later this year.
The Queqiao relay satellite lifted off atop a Long March 4C rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province today (May 20) at 5:28 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT; 5:28 a.m. on May 21 local Xichang time).
Queqiao - Way - Lagrange - Point-2 - Spot
Queqiao is now its way to the Earth-moon Lagrange point-2, a gravitationally stable spot about 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) beyond the lunar far side. The satellite will set up shop there and wait for China's robotic Chang'e 4 lander-rover spacecraft, which is expected to launch in November or December. [China's Moon Missions Explained (Infographic)]
If all goes according to plan, Chang'e 4 will become the first craft ever to touch down on the moon's far side, which forever faces away from Earth. (The moon is "tidally locked" to our planet, so we only ever see the near side.) Queqiao will relay commands and data between the Chang'e 4 lander and its handlers here on Earth — a job the lander and rover can't do for themselves, because all that moon rock would get in the way.
Artist - Illustration - China - Queqiao - Relay
An artist's illustration of China's Queqiao relay satellite, which launched on May 20, 2018. The spacecraft will relay data between controllers on Earth and China's Chang'e 4 lander-rover pair on the moon's far side. Chang'e 4 is scheduled to launch in November or December.
Queqiao is also carrying a radio-astronomy package called the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE), which will hunt for radio emissions from the universe's infancy, study space weather, characterize the radio environment of the Earth-moon system and make a range of other measurements.
NCLE - Experiment - Observations - Design - Development
NCLE is a pathfinder experiment; its observations should aid in the design and development of a future radio-science instrument that will study the heavens...
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