Two small microsatellites launched into space by China have taken stunning images of Earth from the Moon that harken back to the days of the Apollo missions.
The two satellites, each weighing 47 kilograms (104 pounds), are called Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2, and they were launched with the Queqiao satellite (“magpie bridge”) in May, a relay satellite that will support an upcoming Chinese mission to the far side of the Moon.
According to Business Insider, the two spacecraft were designed to study the Moon in tandem, but Longjiang-1 was lost after launch. Longjiang-2, however, is still going strong, and it has a camera system designed by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) in Saudi Arabia on board.
The camera was turned on for the first time on May 28, according to China’s CCTV news service, taking incredible images of the surface of the Moon with Earth in the background in early June, a type of picture known as Earthrise.
In the clearest image of Earth above, you can see the Persian Sea along with the Arabian peninsula. On the Moon in each image, you can see craters, circular pits, and more. It’s reminiscent of the Earthrise images taken by the Apollo missions back in the 1960s and 1970s.
“According to the agreement previously signed by China and Saudi Arabia, both parties will share this load data and jointly release the results,” said the CCTV.
China said the test of the camera was successful, noting that they had met expectations and were running as intended. The microsatellite, developed by the Harbin Institute of Technology in China according to SpaceNews, will remain in lunar orbit and has a low-frequency antenna on board to conduct amateur radio experiments.
This isn’t the only other payload on the mission. There’s also a low-frequency radio detector developed by the Netherlands, a radiation dose detector from Germany, and a Swedish neutron atom detector.
The Queqiao satellite, meanwhile, is being placed at a point of gravitational stability around the Moon called Lagrange point 2. Here it will be used to relay transmissions from Earth to the far side of the Moon, where direct communications with Earth are impossible due to a lack of line of sight.
This will support China’s upcoming lunar lander and rover, expected to launch to the Moon later this year. It will be the first mission to the far side of the Moon, opening up some interesting science as it will be uninterrupted by radio signals from Earth. This will allow it to use an instrument to probe the universe unimpeded.