Orion is not the only spacecraft that was sent up as part of Artemis I. A fleet of small satellites, known as CubeSats, have also traveled to space and they have started to send us some interesting stuff. Among them, there’s EQUULEUS – EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft and also the Latin word for a pony – a CubeSat from the Japanese Space Agency that will study the plasma around Earth. And it snapped some awesome views of the far side of the Moon.
To do so, it will position itself at the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the Earth-Moon system. This is one of five sweet spots, where things can orbit around the Earth at the same time as the Moon. This guarantees that EQUULEUS won’t shift about. L2 is on the far side of the Moon, about 442,600 kilometers (275,000 miles) from the surface of the Earth.
The CubeSat has three instruments designed to study the plasmasphere around the Earth, to understand how charged particles behave in this region. This will inform strategies to protect humans and electronics on long-space missions around the Earth-Moon systems. The other two systems will evaluate dust, asteroids, and even impacts on the Moon. It will also look for mini-Moons those small near-Earth Objects that occasionally get captured by our planet’s gravity such as 2020 CD3.
EQUULEUS will take six months to travel to L2 and then spend six months conducting science there. The images of the far side were taken during its closest approach to the Moon where it got to within about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from the lunar surface.