Magpies In The Dark

I love the way China names their spacecraft.

China seems to be the only thing that the bipolar U.S. Government can agree on. Between human rights abuses, patent infringement, and lack of respect for International accords, China has made themselves personae’ non-gratae with the U.S. Government with respect to technology transfer. This makes it almost impossible for NASA and U.S.-based space companies to partner with them.

The short-lived Space Western series “Firefly” was a story based partly on the premise of the Chinese dominating the exploration of the Solar System and Earth culture in the future. Sometimes it looks like that’s where we’re going, sometimes it doesn’t.

I wish someone would figure out just where humanity is headed with respect to Chinese technological progress. I think it’s going to end up being pretty important some day.

The experience gained from Russian space activities and the goodwill gained from their policy of Perestroika (openness) became the root of the International Space Station project…a significant multinational achievement. Much of that progress has begun to erode with their new hawkishness, but I think it has resulted in a net positive impact for them and the world.

Tiangong, China’s copy of the Russian Mir space station, was lost and deorbited itself in April of this year. But now with the upcoming Chang’e 4, China has stopped following in the footsteps of others and begun an effort to explore the dark-side of the Moon.

Yes, I know it is no more dark on the far-face of Luna than anywhere else on its surface and that it is called the Dark-Side because throughout human history it was unseen by the inhabitants of Earth…until Russia sent a spacecraft there. I’m still going to call it the “dark-side” because it is a way cool name and I’m a science fiction author. OK?

This first step in China’s effort to explore the “dark-side” of the moon was a communications satellite called Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, to relay communications back and forth from Earth to probes that they plan to send to the far-side. It entered its halo orbit at the L-2 Lagrange point beyond the Moon back in June.

When China sends their lander and rover, the rest of the Chang’e 4 mission, which is scheduled to launch in December, they will be the first to do so. Russians first mapped the dark-side and named most of its features. Apollo astronauts were the first humans to view it directly. It has since been mapped and photographed in detail my several spacecraft, but none have ever landed there usefully. A cubesat launched with Queqiao took photos of the Earth and part of a darkside crater. Also on that cubesat is an Arab deep space experiment. China’s first-time contributions to Earth’s knowledge of space are looking up (no pun intended). They will make history. Even before that, sending the Magpie Bridge to L-2 is a pretty cool thing anyway.

The rate things are going, there will be many following them soon, but still. Queqiao represents a significant logistics foothold on lunar exploration. I foresee other planned dark-side missions by other countries partnering with China to use Queqiao for relay to Earth some day.

~ by Bill Housley on September 3, 2018.

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