The Chinese Space Agency is About to Launch a Satellite to the Dark Side of the Moon

Sunday, 20 May 2018 - 3:28PM
Space
Moon
Sunday, 20 May 2018 - 3:28PM
The Chinese Space Agency is About to Launch a Satellite to the Dark Side of the Moon
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Eventually, China plans to land a rover on the dark side of the Moon, a first expedition into a lunar frontier which has gone unexplored until now (even if it has inspired the iconic Pink Floyd album). 

But the rover is still at least two years away - however, China National Space Administration (CNSA) is starting their Moon mission this week with the launch of a lunar probe. Once in space, the probe will set itself up 40,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) over the surface of the Moon's far side, to prepare for the eventual transmissions that the planned rover will send in a couple years' time. 

While it's officially called the Chang'e-4 relay satellite, it's nickname is Queqiao, which translates to "Magpie Bridge". It comes from a fascinating story in Chinese folklore about two separated lovers - each of whom represent a specific star in the night sky - who come together after a group of magpies form a bridge over the Silver River (which represents an arm of the Milky Way). 



So if you see one lover as the eventual Chang'e-4 lunar rover, and the second lover as the lucky soul monitoring a CNSA control room, this satellite will be the "bridge" allowing the two to communicate. Since there's not a straight line of communication between the rover and Earth, a hindrance to any mission on the opposite side of the Moon, this relate satellite is a key part of the mission.

The relay satellite is scheduled to launch tomorrow, May 21, 2018 at around 5 p.m., shortly after another rocket launch from NASA on the other side of the world. There's no official date for the second half of the Chang'e-4 mission, but the CNSA might be waiting to make sure everything works with the satellite first.

It'll be one of the first things humanity has sent back to the Moon in a long time. NASA has plans to set up a major lunar space station in the near future, but in the meantime, it's good that we're going back to Earth's biggest satellite. 

Especially the dark side of the Moon, making this new mission the great gig in the sky, so to speak.
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