Credit: CNSA

 

China has successfully launched the Queqiao relay satellite, a first step in the country’s quest to land the Chang’e-4 spacecraft on the far side of the Moon.

Queqiao is to be positioned in an Earth-Moon L2 Lagrange point – a place in space where the spacecraft can relay communications between ground controllers and the far side lander/rover mission.

The Queqiao relay craft is essential to any far side landing attempt by Chang’e-4, to be launched moonward later this year.

Credit: CNSA

Radio astronomy

Queqiao is carrying a Dutch radio antenna, the Netherlands Chinese Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE).

With the instrument, made by engineers from the Radboud Radio Lab of Radboud University, ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy in Dwingeloo, and the Delft-based company ISIS, astronomers want

 

to measure radio waves originating from the period directly after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies were formed.

 

 

 

 

 

For a look at NCLE deploying one of its three antennas in a lab test, go to this video:

https://youtu.be/hca3MeX-8rw

 

A pair of 104 pound (47 kilograms) microsatellites are also heading for the Moon.
Credit: Harbin Institute of Technology

Hitchhiking microsatellites

Also on board the relay satellite mission, a pair of hitchhiking microsatellites – unofficially called DSLWP-A1 and DSLWP-A2 (DSLWP = Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder).

DSLWP is a lunar formation flying mission led by students at the Harbin Institute of Technology, designed for low frequency radio astronomy, amateur radio and education. They will eventually enter a lunar elliptical orbit. Onboard each satellite, there are two VHF/UHF SDR transceivers to provide beacon, telemetry, telecommand, digital image downlink and a repeater. Onboard transmitting power is about 2 watts.

The satellites will use the Moon to shield them from radio emissions from Earth for a series of long wavelength space-based interferometry experiments.

Chang’e-4 Moon lander and rover.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Emotional time

NCLE project leader Marc Klein Wolt (managing director Radboud Radio Lab) was present at the launch together with colleagues and representatives from the Dutch embassy in China.

“Everything has been successful and our antenna is now on its way to the so-called second Lagrange point (L2) of the Earth-Moon system. That is about 65,000 kilometers behind the Moon,” Wolt said in a press statement.  “The team watched the launch at a distance of 2 km from the platform…I have never heard such an impressive sound. The rocket came over our heads at a height of 100 kilometers and we all got a bit emotional. We have been working hard on this mission for two years and now NCLE has to continue this journey on its own.”

“The launch was spectacular, clear sky with stars and Mars, unfortunately not the moon as backdrop,” Albert-Jan Boonstra, project leader at ASTRON, told Inside Outer Space.

For a view of the launch, go to:

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