Image credit: CNSA

China’s Queqiao-2 – a relay satellite for the country’s Moon missions – arrived February 2 at the Wenchang launch center in south China’s Hainan Province.

According to China’s National Space Administration (CNSA), testing of the spacecraft will soon be underway with launch in the first half of this year.

Once on duty, Queqiao-2 will make use of a 4.2 meter parabolic antenna to enable communication between China’s lunar surface operations and ground controllers, providing relay support for the already on the Moon Chang’e-4, and upcoming missions of Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 robotic lunar probes.

Chang’e-6, to be launched later this year, is to attempt the first-ever sample return to Earth of lunar specimens from the Moon’s far side.

Image credit: CNSA

Fourth phase

Queqiao-2, or Magpie Bridge-2, is a key part of the fourth phase of China’s lunar exploration program, ahead of a projected human lunar expedition by 2030.

This new and upgraded relay sentinel follows Queqiao-1, launched in May 2018. It supported China’s Chang’e-4 mission. That robotic lander and Yutu rover mission made the first soft landing on the far side of the Moon back in January 2019.

Test satellites, science payloads

The upgraded Queqiao-2 relay reportedly will carry two Queqiao communication technology test satellites, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2 designed by China’s Deep Space Exploration Laboratory.

China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission elements.
Credit: CNSA

Queqiao-2  also totes a trio of scientific payloads: An extreme ultraviolet camera, an array neutral atom imager, and an Earth-Moon Very-long-baseline interferometry (VLBI) system.

To achieve better visibility of the Moon’s south pole region, the Queqiao-2 relay spacecraft is to be stationed in a stable, “frozen” elliptical orbit around the Moon.

Its designed lifetime is more than 8 years.

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