Pakistan’s iCube-Qamar satellite transmits first images from lunar orbit

Pakistan’s foray into lunar exploration achieved a milestone as the inaugural lunar satellite iCube-Qamar successfully transmitted its first-ever images captured from the lunar orbit, announced the national space agency on Friday.

Part of China’s ambitious Chang’e-6 lunar mission, iCube-Qamar was launched from Hainan province on May 3 and accomplished the significant feat of entering the moon’s orbit at 1:14 PM on May 8. Positioned at an average distance of 384,400 kilometres from Earth, the moon provided a celestial canvas for Pakistan’s foray into space exploration.

Collaboratively designed by Islamabad’s Institute of Space Technology (IST), China’s Shanghai University (SJTU), and Pakistan’s national space agency SUPARCO, the iCube-Q orbiter represents a pioneering venture into deep space exploration.

Equipped with two optical cameras, the CubeSat-sized satellite is primed to capture high-resolution images of the lunar surface. CubeSats, renowned for their compact design and cost-effectiveness, offer novel opportunities for scientific exploration and innovation in space missions.

Operating under extreme temperature conditions as low as minus 100 degrees Celsius, the satellite features a specialised 7-kilogramme one-megapixel camera optimised for missions with power constraints.

Dr. Khurram Khursheed, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Science at IST, emphasised the critical role of iCube-Q in deep space missions. Its surface-level analysis capabilities, coupled with modest image transmission rates of 1-kbps, are poised to yield invaluable insights into crater locations, water distribution, and potential traces of ice on the moon’s surface.

As China’s Chang’e-6 mission embarks on collecting rock and soil samples, iCube-Qamar will orbit the moon for a duration of three to six months, diligently capturing and relaying images back to Earth, enriching our understanding of the lunar landscape.

The opportunity to deploy the cubesat in lunar orbit emerged through the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO), facilitated by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Following meticulous evaluation, Pakistan’s proposal stood out among APSCO member states, earning the privilege of participation in this historic lunar exploration mission.

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