Successful completion of Queqiao-2 tests paves the way for China to launch a new mission to explore the far side of the Moon

by alex

A new stage in China's preparations for the Moon sample return mission

China's Queqiao-2 satellite has successfully completed functional and operational tests in lunar orbit, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced on April 12. This moment anticipates the launch of a mission to return samples from the far side of the Moon and confirms China's readiness for this ambitious task.

One of the key goals of Queqiao-2 was to conduct communications tests in lunar orbit. On April 6, the device successfully communicated with the interplanetary station of the Chang'e-4 mission. on the far side of the Moon. This was preceded by a successful test on April 8-9 with the Chang'e-6 spacecraft. on Earth, which is still awaiting its launch.

Confirmation of the functionality of Queqiao-2 was the last important step before the launch of the Chang'e-6 mission. The planned 53-day mission is a continuation of the successful sample return mission of «Chang'e-5» 2020, during which 1731 grams of material were collected from the near side of the Moon.

According to airspace closure notices, the launch of the Chang'e-6 mission scheduled for May 3. The purpose of this mission — collecting up to 2000 grams of samples from the Apollo crater on the far side of the Moon. 

If successful, these samples will be returned to Earth, allowing for detailed analysis and increased understanding of the Moon's history and the differences between its near and far sides.

Queqiao-2 was launched on March 19 using the Long March 8 rocket, it entered lunar orbit on March 24, and entered the intended elliptical orbit with a 24-hour period on April 2. This satellite is a more efficient and advanced successor to its predecessor, Queqiao. The latter was launched in 2018 and accompanied the Chang'e-4 mission. This mission, consisting of a lander and a rover, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon in 2019.

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A pair of smaller spacecraft, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2, were launched along with Queqiao-2. CNSA confirmed that the satellites separated from each other in lunar orbit on April 3. The duo is currently conducting a series of communications technology tests. The satellites will be in lunar orbit and will participate in tests to test navigation and communications technologies. This couple are «pioneers» the planned wider Queqiao satellite constellation, which will provide lunar navigation and communications services. Tiandu-2 transmitted an infrared image of the Moon and Earth taken on April 8.

Queqiao-2 weighs 1,200 kilograms, is equipped with a 4.2-meter dish antenna and is an important part of China's strategy to explore the Moon and establish a lunar base in the 2030s.

Queqiao-2 will improve communications between Earth and spacecraft at the lunar south pole. It also plays a key role in future missions such as «Chang'e-7» and «Chang'e-8», planned for 2026, which will be sent to the south pole of the Moon to detect volatile substances and potential resources.

These missions, including Chang'e-8, will test in situ resource utilization methods, such as using lunar regolith to make building blocks. They will also serve as the precursors to the China-led International Lunar Research Station ILRS.

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