China just launched a spacecraft that will help pave the way for a historic mission to the moon's far side later this year, according to a Space.comreport.
The Queqiao relay satellite lifted off atop a Long March 4C rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province on May 21.
Queqiao is now on its way to the Earth-moon Lagrange point-2, a gravitationally stable spot about 64,000 kilometers beyond the lunar far side. The satellite will set up shop there and wait for China's robotic Chang'e 4 lander-rover spacecraft, which is expected to launch in November or December, it said.
If all goes according to plan, Chang'e 4 will become the first craft ever to touch down on the moon's far side, which forever faces away from Earth.
Queqiao will relay commands and data between the Chang'e 4 lander and its handlers here on Earth — a job the lander and rover can't do for themselves, because all that moon rock would get in the way.
Queqiao is also carrying a radio-astronomy package called the Netherlands-China Low-Frequency Explorer (NCLE), which will hunt for radio emissions from the universe's infancy, study space weather, characterize the radio environment of the Earth-moon system and make a range of other measurements.
NCLE is a pathfinder experiment; its observations should aid in the design and development of a future radio-science instrument that will study the heavens from a perch in space or on the moon, team members have said.