After a 20-day journey, China’s Queqiao lunar communications relay satellite has made it to lunar orbit. Its companion, the Longjiang-2 microsatellite, wasted no time, taking some neat pics of Earth and the lunar surface.
Queqiao, meaning Magpie Bridge, is a key component of the upcoming Chang’e 4 lander and rover mission, at which time it will provide a continuous communications link to Earth while the probe does its exploratory work on the dark side of the Moon. Chang’e 4 is expected to launch at some point in December 2018.
But Queqiao was launched with a pair of companions, the Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2 microsatellites. Sadly, something went wrong with Longjiang-1 and it never left Earth’s orbit, but its sister satellite made it all the way to the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system.
Longjiang-2, which measures just 20 inches across, is equipped with a Saudi Arabia-built optical camera. The China National Space Administration released three photos taken by the microsat on June 14, one showing part of the Mare Imbrium on the Moon.
But the microsat will do more than just take pretty pictures—it’s also set to do some cool science. Free from Earth’s ionosphere, the satellite will be able to perform low frequency radio astronomy and amateur radio experiments.
The next step in the mission will be to test Queqiao’s 13-foot-long (4 m) parabolic antenna. The relay satellite will be expected to carry out its data relay tasks at a distance of nearly 300,000 miles (500,000 km) from Earth.