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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

First image from lunar orbit by Pakistan’s iCube-Qamar

Pakistan's ICUBE-Q satellite, which successfully entered the moon's orbit on Wednesday at 1:14 pm PST, transmitted its inaugural lunar image.

Pakistan’s ICUBE-Q satellite, which successfully entered the moon’s orbit on Wednesday at 1:14 pm PST, recently transmitted its inaugural lunar image, marking a significant advancement for Pakistan’s space endeavors. This milestone was commemorated at a special ceremony hosted by the China National Space Administration, where the first lunar image was formally presented to Pakistani Ambassador Khalil Hashmi.

The satellite is currently positioned in a stable lunar orbit, adhering to predefined operational parameters. Experts had previously estimated that it would take about a week to validate the subsystems before the imaging system could be activated, with the anticipation of receiving the first moon image around May 15 or 16.

The ongoing Chang’e 6 mission, having achieved lunar orbit due to lunar gravitational forces, is progressing towards its next phase. This involves deploying the mission’s lander and ascender to the far side of the lunar south pole. On June 1, the primary lander is scheduled to detach from the spacecraft, initiating the Chang’e-6 mission’s soil and rock sample collection from the lunar surface on June 2.

The Chang’e 6 mission

The Chang’e 6 mission is planned to embark on its return journey on June 4, docking on June 6, and completing its 53-day mission on June 25 upon reaching Earth. Pakistan’s space program marked a historic event on May 3 with the launch of its inaugural lunar orbiter from China’s Henan Space Launch Site.

The initiative to send a lunar orbiter commenced in 2022 when the China National Space Agency (CNSA) provided member states, via the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO), the opportunity to send a student-designed payload to the moon aboard the Chang’e 6 mission. The ICUBE-Q, proposed as a lunar CubeSat by IST, was selected after rigorous evaluation. Its development involved collaborative efforts between IST’s students and faculty, SUPARCO, and China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU).

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The payload comprises the CubeSat, separation mechanism, and mounting bracket, weighing approximately 7 kilograms. It incorporates two cameras for lunar surface imaging, alongside sensors and equipment for deep-space communication, altitude management, and other operational tasks.