Illustration of relay satellite Queqiao-2 deployed in lunar orbit

Successful Launch Of Queqiao-2 Satellite For China’s Lunar Exploration Program

Queqiao-2 relay satellite launch: A milestone in lunar communication, supporting China's ambitious lunar missions and scientific advancements

On March 20th, at 00:31 UTC, the Queqiao-2 relay satellite was successfully launched into its target lunar orbit, using the Long March 8 Y3 rocket operated by the CASC from the Wenchang Space Launch Site, Hainan, China. Together with its counterpart, Queqiao-1, it will provide communication support for the Chinese lunar exploration program.

Liftoff of the Long March 8 Y3 rocket with the Queqiao-2 relay satellite. Credits: Weibo
Liftoff of the Long March 8 Y3 rocket with the Queqiao-2 relay satellite. Credits: 我们的太空 from Weibo


The Chinese lunar exploration program

China has positioned itself as a key player in the renewed space race, propelling its ambitious lunar exploration program led by the CNSA.

While NASA’s Artemis program, with its international collaborations, proceeds at a slow pace, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) moves forward with determination.

Since its inception in 2004, CLEP has achieved a series of successes with the robotic Chang’e missions, mapping the Moon at various resolutions, landing on the far side, and returning lunar samples to Earth with the Chang’e 5 mission in 2020. 2024 will see Chang’e 6 retrieve further samples from the lunar south pole.

Looking ahead, CLEP plans to launch powerful new Long March 10 rockets and develop spacecraft for human transportation, such as Dreamboat and Range Moon. The goal is ambitious: to bring the first Chinese astronauts to the Moon by 2027 and establish a permanent lunar base with scientific research capabilities and long-term habitability.

Support for Chinese lunar missions

The launch of Queqiao-2 is a critical piece in this plan. Positioned in lunar orbit, the satellite will ensure reliable and stable communication with all lunar missions, both robotic and human, providing a real-time bridge with Earth, enabling remote control, telemetry, and the transmission of scientific data.

Illustration of the future Chinese lunar base with the support of the Queqiao-2 satellite. Credits: China Academy of Space Technology
Illustration of the future Chinese lunar base with the support of the Queqiao-2 satellite. Credits: China Academy of Space Technology

Queqiao-2 will also play a crucial role in supporting the Chang’e 7 mission, providing communication and navigation to the rover that will explore the lunar south pole.


Insight into the features and functions

Queqiao-2, the successor to the pioneering Queqiao-1 lunar relay satellite, represents a significant technological advancement in China’s lunar exploration efforts. With a wet mass of approximately 1.2 tons, Queqiao-2 is substantially heavier than its predecessor, which weighed 448 kg.

This increase in mass reflects enhancements in its overall capabilities and the addition of a comprehensive suite of instruments designed for extended lunar communication and scientific observation.

Its parabolic antenna is central to Queqiao-2’s design, mirroring the 4.2-meter span of Queqiao-1 but with notable improvements. This antenna, resembling a golden umbrella, is intricately crafted from ultra-fine, gold-plated molybdenum wires, boasting diameters ranging from 15 to 30μm—less than a quarter of a human hair’s width.

This delicate structure allows for highly efficient communication capabilities, essential for relaying signals between Earth and lunar missions, particularly those on the Moon’s far side where direct communication is unfeasible.

Illustration of relay satellite Queqiao-2 deployed in lunar orbit. Credits: CNSA
Illustration of relay satellite Queqiao-2 deployed in lunar orbit. Credits: CNSA

In addition to its primary communication role, Queqiao-2 is equipped with an array of scientific instruments, including an extreme ultraviolet camera, a neutral atom imager, and an Earth-Moon VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) test system.

These payloads are intended to advance our understanding of the lunar environment and provide crucial support for upcoming missions, such as Chang’e-6, 7, and 8, facilitating their ambitious objectives of lunar sample collection and in-depth exploration.


Successful launch with two more payloads

The launch on March 20th, executed with the Long March 8 Y3 rocket from the Wenchang launch site in Hainan, achieved a pivotal moment as Queqiao-2, followed by the experimental satellites Tiandu 1 and Tiandu 2, successfully separated from the rocket. Merely 120 seconds after Queqiao-2’s departure, Tiandu 1 and Tiandu 2 embarked on their journey into the Earth-Moon transfer orbit.

This strategic insertion sets the stage for their formation flight around the Moon, where they will undertake critical technology validation tasks, including navigation calibrations and signal transmission tests.

Queqiao-2, named after a bridge in a Chinese fairy tale, is destined for the Moon’s orbit, marking a significant leap in China’s lunar exploration endeavors.

As a relay platform, it is integral to the fourth phase of China’s lunar exploration program, tasked with providing indispensable communication services for the Chang’e-4, 6, 7 and 8 missions.

This suite of satellites, including Queqiao-2 and the Tiandu duo, represents a cohesive effort to advance lunar communication and navigation, paving the way for future exploratory successes and technological breakthroughs in China’s ambitious lunar exploration saga.


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Federico Airoldi

Federico Airoldi

Coder, developer and content creator. I am dedicated to spreading my love of space exploration and inspiring others to join me in the pursuit of new frontiers. Page owner of Airo_spaceflight.

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