China successfully launched the Chang’e-4 relay satellite to the Earth-moon L2 Lagrange point on Sunday. The spacecraft, which is named Queqiao, was lofted into space aboard a Long March 4C booster from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.
The satellite will relay data for the Chang’e-4 lunar rover and lander, which is set for launch late this year from Xichang. The rover will explore the South Pole-Aitken Basin as part of the first mission to explore the far side of the moon. The flight will also feature a lunar orbiter.
Sunday’s launch included two microsats that will conduct astronomical observations from deep space.
There are a dozen orbital launches planned around the world through the end of June.
China will lead off on Sunday as it launches its Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite from Xichang. A lunar lander and rover targeted for the far side of the moon is scheduled for launch at the end of the year.
Orbital ATK will follow with the launch of a Cygnus resupply ship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday from Wallops Island. On Tuesday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch 5 Iridium Next satellites and a pair of scientific spacecraft for NASA.
Other notable missions scheduled through June include a Soyuz crew mission and a SpaceX Dragon resupply flight. Rocket Lab is probably going to launch the first commercial flight of its Electron booster from New Zealand. However, the company has not published a launch window for the flight.
The current global schedule is below. Be sure to check Space Flight Now’s launch schedule for updates.
In recent weeks, Chinese officials have revealed more details about the investigation into the Long March 5 launch failure last year as well as their ambitious launch plans for this year, which include a landing on the far side of the moon.
Long March 5 will be returned to flight in the second half of 2018, according to Bao Weimin, head of the Science and Technology Committee of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Engineers have identified the cause of a launch failure that occurred last July and are working to verify it, he said.
China conducted its first launch of 2018 on Tuesday when a Long March 2D booster lofted a pair of SuperView imaging satellites into polar orbit for Beijing Space View Technology. The rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
“Success! We’re thrilled to announce the successful launch of SuperView-1 03&04 satellites at 11:26 this morning in Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center!” the company tweeted.
The launch doubled the number of high-resolution SuperView satellites the company has on orbit. It plans to sell imagery on the global market.
GBTimesreports China could launch more than 40 times in 2018, which would be a substantial increase over the 18 launches the nation conducted last year.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), announced at a conference on January 2 that its 2018 work model includes 35 launches, underlining the return to flight of the heavy-lift Long March 5 rocket, the Chang’e-4 lunar far side mission and launches of Beidou navigation satellites as the major activities.
In addition CASIC, a defence contractor, missile maker and sister company of CASC, will carry out a number of missions through its subsidiary EXPACE, including launching four Kuaizhou-1A rockets within one week and the maiden flight of the larger Kuaizhou-11.
Landspace Technology, a Beijing-based private aerospace company, is also expected to debut its LandSpace-1 solid propellant rocket this year.
An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.
NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.
And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars. (more…)
The International Astronautical Congress has been going on all week down in Adelaide, Australia. In addition to Elon Musk’s presentation on Friday and some news I’ve already posted here, there have been a few updates on various programs.
Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Boeing is aiming for a test flight of the CST-100 Starliner to the International Space Station in the third quarter of 2018. However, the first crewed test flight could slip from the fourth quarter of 2018 into the first quarter of 2019. Link
Rocket Lab. The company’s next test launch will carry will two Dove Cubesats from Planet and a pair of Lemur CubeSsats from Spire Global. The satellite will allow Rocket Lab to test deploying spacecraft from the second stage of its Electron rocket. The launch is planned for several weeks from now. Link
Long March 5. The failure of a Long March 5 booster in July will delay the launch of China’s Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission, which had been scheduled for November. The Chang’e-4 mission, which will land on the far side of the moon, also will be delayed. That flight had been scheduled for late next year. The accident investigation is ongoing. Link
While KFC prepares to send a Zinger chicken sandwich into Outer Space AdjacentTM, China has much bigger ambitions for its Chang’e-4 lunar lander.
Research teams with Chongqing University have developed an 18 cm high, 3 kg aluminium alloy mini-ecosystem which will incubate the biological payloads.
“The container will send potatoes, arabidopsis seeds and silkworm eggs to the surface of the Moon. The eggs will hatch into silkworms, which can produce carbon dioxide, while the potatoes and seeds emit oxygen through photosynthesis,” Zhang Yuanxun, chief designer of the container, told the Chongqing Morning Post.
Temperature control and energy supply are the biggest challenges, People’s Daily quotes Zhang as saying.
The experiment will be livestreamed and is expected to contribute to research towards establishing future lunar habitats.
A white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.
China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.
The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.