Emily Lakdawalla • May 14, 2019
China’s SmallSat Lunar Mission Longjiang-2 to Deorbit on 31 July
According to amateur spacecraft tracker Daniel Estévez, Longjiang-2 will crash into the Moon on 31 July after more than a year in lunar orbit. Longjiang-2 is one of a pair of small satellites that launched to the Moon along with the Chang’e-4 relay satellite Queqiao on 21 May 2018. Longjiang-2’s partner Longjiang-1 failed to enter lunar orbit, but Longjiang-2 succeeded, and amateur radio operators on Earth have been commanding it to take cool photos ever since.
Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2, China's mission to the Moon's farside
China's Chang'e-4 mission delivered a landing platform and a rover named Yutu-2 to the Moon's farside.
Longjiang-2’s original orbit would have been stable over a very long period. Estévez states that the orbit periapsis was lowered by 500 kilometers on 24 January, “so that orbital perturbations would eventually force the satellite to collide with the Moon. This was done to put an end to the mission and to avoid leaving debris in orbit.” In a later post, he predicted that the impact would fall on the far side of the Moon, thus avoiding Apollo and Luna landing sites.
When it’s possible, it’s a responsible move to discard spacecraft while they’re still commandable, to prevent derelict ships from threatening the operations of functional ones. Kudos to Longjiang-2’s operators for keeping lunar orbit clean!
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