China is ready to support the lunar far side sample mission

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HELSINKI — The Queqiao-2 satellite has completed function and performance tests in lunar orbit, clearing China to launch its upcoming lunar far side sample return mission.
The spacecraft conducted successful communication tests with Chang’e-4 mission spacecraft on the far side of the moon April 6.
This was followed by a test April 8-9 Beijing time with the Chang’e-6 spacecraft back on Earth, which is yet to launch.
Confirming the operation and performance of Queqiao-2 is the final step before China launches its complex Chang’e-6 mission.
China launched the Queqiao-2 lunar communications relay satellite March 19 on a Long March 8 rocket.
The spacecraft entered lunar orbit March 24 and realized its intended elliptical, 24-hour-period orbit April 2.
The CNSA statement confirmed the pair separated from each other in lunar orbit April 3.
The experimental satellites will fly in formation in lunar orbit and conduct tests for navigation and communications technology verification.

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HELSINKI: China can now proceed with the upcoming lunar far side sample return mission, as the Queqiao-2 satellite has successfully completed its function and performance tests in lunar orbit.

As of April 12, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) declared that Queqiao-2’s on-orbit communication testing was completed.

On April 6, the spacecraft successfully tested communication with the Chang’e-4 mission spacecraft on the moon’s far side. The Chang’e-6 spacecraft, which has not yet been launched, conducted a test run from April 8–9, Beijing time.

The last stage before China launches its intricate Chang’e-6 mission is to confirm Queqiao-2’s performance and operation. A more ambitious follow-up to the 2020 Chang’e-5 sample return mission, which brought back 1,731 grams of lunar material from the moon’s near side, is the 53-day planned mission.

Airspace closure notices now seem to indicate that Chang’e-6 will launch on May 3. Up to 2,000 grams of rock samples are intended to be collected by the mission from the far side of the moon’s Apollo crater.

Because of tidal locking, that half of the moon is never facing Earth. Thus, Queqiao-2 has been put into service to facilitate the groundbreaking mission by serving as a signal relay between Chang’e-6, located on the lunar far side, and ground stations.

Chang’e-6 could bring materials from the moon to Earth if it is successful. Examining these might reveal fresh information about the moon’s past and the distinctions between its near and far sides.

Chinese rocket company Long March 8 successfully launched the Queqiao-2 lunar communications relay satellite on March 19. On March 24, the spacecraft entered lunar orbit, and on April 2, it achieved its planned elliptical, 24-hour orbit.

Two smaller spacecraft, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2, were also on board the Queqiao-2 launch. The CNSA statement verified that on April 3, the two parted ways while in lunar orbit.

Now, the two are carrying out a number of verification tests for communication technology. In order to test navigation and communications technology, the experimental satellites will fly in formation in lunar orbit.

Designed to offer lunar navigation and communication services, the two serve as trailblazers for the larger Queqiao constellation. On April 8, Tiandu-2 also returned an infrared picture of the moon and far-off Earth.

A bridge to the far side and beyond is Queqiao-2.

2018, saw the release of Queqiao-2, also known as “Magpie Bridge-2,” a more competent replacement. The Chang’e-4 mission was made easier by the earlier satellite. In 2019, a lander and rover on that mission accomplished the first-ever far-side landing on the moon.

As part of China’s future lunar exploration plans and a first step toward constructing a lunar base in the 2030s, the new 1,200-kg satellite has a 4.2-meter parabolic antenna.

In 2026, Queqiao-2 will change its orbit to a 12-hour period in order to facilitate the Chang’e-7 and later Chang’e-8 missions. Missions aimed at identifying volatiles and possible resources on the moon will focus on the south pole.

By carrying out pertinent science with its own payloads, Queqiao-2 will enhance communication between Earth and spacecraft at the lunar south pole.

Chang’e-8 will test in-situ resource utilization methods, like making bricks out of lunar regolith. The missions collectively serve as forerunners to the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), which is led by China.

Recently, Thailand joined the ILRS as the ninth nation. China and Russia formally launched the initiative in 2021, and according to recent reports, Turkey has also applied to join.

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