China’s Queqiao-1 relay satellite in need of replacement. Image credit: Radboud Radio Lab of the Radboud University, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and Innovative Solutions in Space (ISIS).

China’s Moon exploration program calls for launch next year of a new Queqiao-2 relay satellite.

That relay spacecraft is slated to provide key relay communication services for its future Chang’e lunar missions over the next decade, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

According to China Central Television (CCTV), the design life of China’s current Queqiao relay satellite is set to expire. Its replacement is to serve phase-4 lunar probe missions: Chang’e-6, Chang’e-7, and Chang’e-8 missions. These Moon missions are to be carried out successively in the next 10 years.

Queqiao relay spacecraft is in a halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system, utilized to set up a communication link between the Earth and the Moon’s farside.
Credit: CNSA

Relay improvements

“We need to launch a relay satellite to support the work of Chang’e-6 as it will land on the far side of the Moon. So we will send Queqiao-2 at the beginning of 2024 to support the Chang’e-6 mission,” said Hu Hao, chief designer of the third phase of the China Lunar Exploration Project.

Queqiao-2 is to have a greater improvement in overall performance and capability compared to its predecessor, Hu added.

Chang’e-6 is expected to be hurled Moonward sometime within the next two years, tasked with returning to Earth select specimens from the lunar far side.

Phase-4 missions

“Chang’e-6 will land on the far side of the Moon, discovering and collecting lunar samples of different ages in different regions,” Wang Qiong, deputy chief designer of the upcoming Chang’e-6 mission told CCTV.

Credit: CNSA/CLEP

“The engineering goal of Chang’e-6 is to make breakthroughs in orbital design and control technology of the Moon’s retrograde orbit and intelligent sampling, take-off and ascent technologies on the dark side of the Moon, automatic sampling and return from the Moon’s far side, and carrying out effective international cooperation,” Wang said.

In November of last year, the CNSA released plans for the phase-4 lunar probe missions: the retrieval of lunar samples from the far side of the Moon by Chang’e-6, a detailed survey of the Moon’s south pole resources by the Chang’e-7, and the testing of key technologies in preparation for the construction of a proposed lunar research station during the Chang’e-8 mission.

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