Chinese flag with a drawing of a satellite

China to build satellite constellation for lunar communications

Image credit: Canva

China has revealed its plans to develop a satellite constellation to provide communications, navigation and remote-sensing services for missions to the Moon and beyond.

The satellite constellation – named Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge – is expected to begin its activities in 2030, when it will serve as a communications bridge for deep space exploration missions, according to Chinese state media. 

The project's goal is to support China's ongoing lunar exploration programme and the building of the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), said Wu Yanhua, chief designer of the project, during the country's First International Deep Space Exploration Conference. 

During the event, the Queqiao constellation was described as "a space infrastructure and public service platform built and operated in deep space". It would reportedly feature the capability of efficient communications, navigation, in-orbit computing and information storage. 

Wu announced that the satellite constellation would be built in three phases, with the first relay satellite for communications between the far side of the Moon and Earth scheduled to be launched in 2024, according to the China National Space Administration.

The satellite will serve as a relay platform for the fourth phase of China's lunar exploration program, providing communications services for Chang'e-4, Chang'e-6, Chang'e-7 and Chang'e-8 missions.

While the Chang'e-6 and Chang'e-7 missions have been designed with the goal of exploring the Moon's surface and resources, in order to discover whether long-term human habitation would be possible, the Chang'e-8 mission will aim to build a basic model of the ILRS.

In 2030 a pilot of the Queqiao constellation will be built. This smaller project will support the fourth phase of China's lunar exploration program and the construction of the ILRS.

Following the success of the pilot, a basic Queqiao constellation will be built around 2040 to realise regional navigation and provide services for manned lunar exploration and deep space exploration for planets such as Mars and Venus, Wu said.

Finally, the expanded version of the satellite constellation would be completed around 2050, when it would be expected to provide services for exploring Mars, Venus, giant planets, as well as the edge of the solar system.

During the conference, China's Deep Space Exploration Laboratory launched a global call for proposals for the design of the Magpie Bridge constellation in a bid to gather new ideas and solutions for the future satellite constellation.

China made its first lunar landing in 2013 and has expressed its aim of becoming a major space power by 2030. Earlier this week, China revealed its plans of sending a robotic probe to collect samples from a near-Earth asteroid. In October 2022, it launched the last three modules of its space station, which became the second permanently inhabited outpost in low-Earth orbit, and could become the only functional space station in orbit, after the retirement of the ISS in 2031.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles