China’s lunar program: 3 satellites enter lunar orbit, fate of 2 that fell short unclear

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By journalsofus.com


Three Chinese satellites have successfully entered lunar orbit, while the status of two others remains unclear following apparent rescue efforts.

The Queqiao-2 communications relay satellite, launched from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in southern China on March 20, reached 440 kilometers (273 miles) above the surface of the Moon early Monday morning , according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

After a 19-minute braking that began at 00:46 a.m., the spacecraft slowed, was trapped by the moon’s gravity, and entered a highly elliptical lunar orbit, the administration announced on its website.

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Two smaller satellites, Tiandu-1 and Tiandu-2, which took off alongside Queqiao-2 to test lunar navigation technologies, also successfully braked and entered lunar orbit on Monday morning. They will separate later, according to CNSA.
Meanwhile, there have been no official updates on the status of DRO-A/B satellites, which failed to reach their designated altitude due to a problem with the upper stage rocket after lifting off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on March 13.

“The satellites have not been inserted into their designated orbit and work is underway to address this issue,” state news agency Xinhua said at the time.

The US satellite catalog showed that the pair had raised their orbit from 524 x 132,577 km to 1,164 x 243,691 km after the incident.

“This suggests to me that DRO satellites are still trying to reach the Moon,” said Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer who follows rocket launches and activity in space.

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DRO-A/B was planned to enter the so-called distant retrograde orbit, or DRO, on the moon. From there, they would work with DRO-L, a third satellite placed into low Earth orbit last month, to test laser-based navigation technologies between the Earth and the Moon.

The apparent orbital climb, which had likely cost a considerable amount of the satellite’s propellant, still could not inject the pair directly onto a Moon-bound trajectory, said amateur astronomer Scott Tilley, who lives in British Columbia, Canada.

“Putting the objects into high Earth orbit and raising perigee as they have done would give them time to consider their options for getting them to the Moon. At this stage, a completely different trajectory plan would be needed to get the spacecraft to the Moon or a DRO,” said Tilley, who helped NASA find one of its long-lost satellites in 2018.

Assuming the pair still had enough fuel, it might be possible to devise a special trajectory and even recover the mission, he told the South China Morning Post on Monday.

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In the coming days, Queqiao-2 will make further adjustments to enter a final 24-hour orbit, which is very stable and will require little maintenance during its eight years of operation, according to the CNSA.

From there, the 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) relay satellite will use its 4.2 m (2.6 mi) wide radio antenna to conduct communication tests with the Chang’e 4 spacecraft, who has been conducting scientific research in the Von Kármán crater. on the far side of the moon since 2019.

Like its predecessor Queqiao, which has supported Chang’e 4 for more than five years, Queqiao-2 allows Communications between the Earth and the far side of the Moon. who constantly looks away. It also helps devices on the lunar surface communicate with each other, such as between a lander and a rover.

Queqiao-2 will pave the way for China’s upcoming Chang’e 6 mission, scheduled to launch in May to collect and return lunar samples from the far side of the Moon for the first time.

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