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SPACE.com Columnist Leonard David

China's Microsatellite Crash Site on the Moon Spotted by NASA Lunar Orbiter

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera images taken before and after the impact of China's Longjiang-2 satellite show the crater likely formed by the event.
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera images taken before and after the impact of China's Longjiang-2 satellite show the crater likely formed by the event.
(Image: © NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

A NASA spacecraft circling the moon has spotted the scar left by a Chinese satellite's impact.

China's Longjiang-2 spacecraft — also known as the Discovering the Sky at Longest Wavelengths Pathfinder, or DSLWP-B — crashed onto the lunar far side on July 31 after completing its orbital mission. On Nov. 14, a scientist on NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission announced that the spacecraft had spotted Longjiang-2's apparent impact site.

The China National Space Administration launched the Longjiang-2 satellite to the moon along with the Queqiao relay communications satellite on May 20, 2018. The small spacecraft, which weighed nearly 100 lbs. (45 kilograms), was designed to work with its twin, Longjiang-1, to validate technologies for low-frequency radio astronomy observations.

Related: China On the Moon! A History of Chinese Lunar Missions in Pictures

Longjiang-2 was designed to orbit the moon for a year. The satellite exceeded that estimate, but its mission still needed to come to an end, and China wanted to crash the spacecraft to ensure it wouldn't clutter up lunar orbit.

Now, a new lunar crater has been identified, and it's most likely the result of that impact, according to a statement from Mark Robinson, leader of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team at Arizona State University.

In his remarks about the images released from the instrument, Robinson saluted the team — led by amateur radio operator Daniel Estévez of Tres Cantos, Spain — that estimated that the small spacecraft impacted the lunar surface somewhere within Van Gent crater (16.69 degrees North, 159.52 degrees East).

The LROC team used these coordinates to image the area on Oct. 5. Through a careful comparison of pre-existing LROC Narrow Angle Camera images, the LROC team located a new impact crater (16.6956 degrees N, 159.5170 degrees E, plus or minus 10 meters) just 1,076 feet (328 m) from the estimated site.

The crater is 13 feet by 16 feet (4 by 5 m), with the long axis oriented southwest to northeast.

Based on the crater's size and proximity to the estimated crash coordinates, "we are fairly confident that this new crater formed as a result of the Longjiang-2 impact," Robinson wrote.

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