(From The Guardian)
At 5.28am on Monday, the Queqiao relay satellite was launched from Sichuan province, according to Chinese state media. With Queqiao in place, China will be able to send a lunar probe to the side of the moon that never faces the Earth. No space program has ever reached that part of the lunar surface because of communications difficulties.
In a few days Queqiao will enter the moon’s orbit, about 455,000km (282,000 miles) from Earth. Queqiao – which means “Magpie Bridge” and comes from a Chinese folk story in which an arc formed by birds reunites two lovers separated by the heavens – will then act as a bridge between ground stations and the lunar probe.
China plans to send its lunar lander and rover, Chang’e 4, to the dark side of the moon by the end of this year. The lunar probe will carry seeds for growing potatoes and arabidopsis, a flowering plant related to cabbage, for a “lunar mini biosphere” experiment.
“The launch is a key step for China to realise its goal of being the first country to send a probe to soft-land and probe the far side of the moon,” said Zhang Lihua, manager of the relay satellite project, according to state news agency Xinhua.