Today, May 21, China’s Space program launched a satellite that will be used to help pave the way for a mission to explore the far side of the moon later this year.
The Chang’e 4 lunar probe's relay satellite will be stationed 60,000 kilometers behind the moon and provide a communications link for a rover that will be sent separately. With this communications link, the rover will be able to land and explore the lunar far side, also known as 'the side facing away from Earth.'
China first announced its plan to land on the moon’s far side in 2016, something that would be a first for humanity. Prior successful Chinese space missions include Chang’e 1 and 2 — which both orbited the moon — and Chang’e 3, which functioned as a lander and rover on the moon’s near side.
As Xinhua reports, the satellite is named 'Queqiao' and will relay signals between the rover and Earth. It's planned to be staged at Lagrange Point Two, a position beyond the orbit of the moon where small objects are able to maintain the same position relative to Earth as they orbit the sun.
Queqiao launched at 5.28am today from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan. Image via China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation
Along with Queqiao, there will also be other, smaller satellites launching, including a radio wave detector to measure signals from stars that formed in the early universe.
The Chinese National Space Administration plans to bring a sample of the moon back to Earth with Chang’e 5, which is due to launch in 2019 following a successful test in 2014.
[Cover photo via Gabriella Castillo/Flickr]