China's Relay Satellite is in Lunar Orbit

Animation of Queqiao-2 satellite establishing orbit around the Moon. Credit: CGTN

On March 20th, China’s Queqiao-2 (“Magpie Bridge-2”) satellite launched from the Wenchang Space Launch Site LC-2 on the island of Hainan (in southern China) atop a Long March-8 Y3 carrier rocket. This mission is the second in a series of communications relay and radio astronomy satellites designed to support the fourth phase of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (Chang’e). On March 24th, after 119 hours in transit, the satellite reached the Moon and began a perilune braking maneuver at a distance of 440 km (~270 mi) from the lunar surface.

The maneuver lasted 19 minutes, after which the satellite entered lunar orbit, where it will soon relay communications from missions on the far side of the Moon around the South Pole region. This includes the Chang’e-4 lander and rover and will extend to the Chang’e-6 sample-return mission, which is scheduled to launch in May. It will also assist Chang’e-7 and -8 (scheduled for 2026 and 2028, respectively), consisting of an orbiter, rover, and lander mission, and a platform that will test technologies necessary for the construction of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).

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Chinese Astronauts May Build a Base Inside a Lunar Lava Tube

Lava tubes are natural shelters and could serve as Moon bases. These images from the Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter show pits on the lunar surface. The images are each 222 meters (728 feet) wide. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Caves were some of humanity’s first shelters. Who knows what our distant ancestors were thinking as they sought refuge there, huddling and cooking meat over a fire, maybe drawing animals on the walls. Caves protected our ancient ancestors from the elements, and from predators and rivals, back when sticks, stones, furs and fire were our only technologies.

So there’s a poetic parallel between early humans and us. We’re visiting the Moon again, and lunar caves could shelter us the way caves sheltered our ancestors on Earth.

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China is Planning to Have Humans on the Moon by 2030

Image from a video animation showing the proposed Chinese lunar research station. Credit: China Media Group.

As NASA prepares to return astronauts to the Moon with Artemis III, China is ramping up its efforts for a crewed lunar landing, targeting earlier than 2030. Lin Xiqiang, the deputy director of China’s Manned Space Agency announced that the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is preparing for a “short stay on the lunar surface and human-robotic joint exploration.”

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