Chinese satellite will link to lander on lunar far side

Queqiao is part of extensive Chinese lunar program with the goal of a crewed lunar landing.
By Laurel Kornfeld | May 21, 2018
China's Queqiao satellite, launched on Sunday, May 20, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, will provide a link between the Earth and Chang'e 4, which China plans to land on the far side of the Moon later this year.

If successful, Chang'e 4 will mark the first ever landing on the Moon's far side, where it will dispatch a rover that will probe the lunar surface.

Queqiao will act as a relay link from the lander to China's mission control. Direct communication between the Moon's far side and the Earth is not possible due to the Moon's large mass.

Instead, the satellite will be positioned behind the Moon at the gravitationally stable Lagrange Point.

The satellite's name means "bridge of magpies" and comes from a folktale, according to the state-run Xinhuanet news outlet.

"In a Chinese folktale, magpies form a bridge with their wings on the seventh night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar to enable Zhi Nu, the seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, to cross and meet her beloved husband, separated from her by the Milky Way," Xinhuanet explained.

Chang'e 4 will be China's fourth lunar mission and the second to land on the lunar surface. Chang'e 1 and Chang'e 2 orbited the Moon in 2007 and 2010 respectively, while Chang'e 3 landed a rover on its surface in 2013.

In 2014, an experimental Chinese mission, Chang'e 5 T1, orbited the Moon and successfully returned to Earth. This capsule will be used in the 2019 Chang'e 5 mission, which will collect samples of the lunar surface and take them back to Earth for analysis.

Equipped with a radio scanner, Queqiao will listen for low-frequency radio signals from the universe's earliest days. Its position gives Queqiao the advantage of complete freedom from Earth interference.

In an environment free of background noise, low-frequency emissions could be picked up from as far back as the Big Bang.

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