Spectacular Liftoff Thrusts China’s First Rover ‘Yutu’ to the Moon

by Ken Kremer on December 1, 2013

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Liftoff of China’s first ever lunar rover on Dec. 2 local China time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: CCTV

Liftoff of China’s first ever lunar rover on Dec. 2 local Beijing time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: CCTV
Story updated
See stunning launch video and rover deployment animation below

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – China successfully launched its first ever lunar rover bound for the Moon’s surface aboard a Long March rocket today at 1:30 a.m. Beijing local time, Dec. 2, 2013 (12:30 p.m. EST, Dec. 1) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.

The spectacular night time blastoff of the Long March-3B carrier rocket with the ‘Yutu’ rover was carried live on China’s state run CCTV enabling viewers worldwide to watch the dramatic proceedings as they occurred in real time – including fantastic imagery of booster jettison, spacecraft separation, thruster firings and exquisite views of Earth from cameras aboard the booster.

See the stunning launch video below.

Video caption: China’s Chang’e-3 Lunar Probe Launch on Dec 2, 2013. Credit: CCTV

The entire flight sequence proceeded flawlessly and placed the combined Chang’e 3 lunar landing vehicle and ‘Yutu’ rover on the desired earth-moon transfer orbit following spacecraft separation and unfurling of the life giving solar panels and landing legs, announced Zhang Zhenzhong, director of the Xichang center.

“The Chang’e probe is on its way to the moon, of course, is a symbol of China’s national prowess,” said Zhang Zhenzhong through a translator during the live CCTV broadcast. “Of course, it’s a symbol of China’s national power and prowess.”

The three stage 55 meter (185 foot) tall Long March-3B carrier rocket was uniquely equipped with a quartet of strap on liquid fueled boosters to provide the additional liftoff thrust required for the four day journey to Earth’s Moon.

Spectacular view of Chang’e 3 thruster firings after separation from upper stage with Earth in the background. Credit: CCTV

Spectacular view of Chang’e 3 thruster firings after separation from upper stage with Earth in the background. Credit: CCTV

The name for the ‘Yutu’ rover – which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ – was chosen after a special naming contest involving a worldwide poll and voting to select the best name.

‘Yutu’ stems from a Chinese fairy tale, in which the goddess Chang’e flew off to the moon taking her little pet Jade rabbit with her.

The Chang’e 3 lander will fire thrusters to enter lunar orbit on Dec. 6.

It is due to make a powered descent to the lunar surface on Dec. 14, firing thrusters at an altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for touchdown in a preselected area called the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum region.

Artists concept of China’s ‘Yutu’ rover traversing the lunar surface. Credit: CCTV

Artists concept of China’s ‘Yutu’ rover traversing the lunar surface. Credit: CCTV

If successful, the Chang’e 3 mission will mark the first soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s unmanned Luna 24 sample return vehicle landed nearly four decades ago back in 1976.

‘Yutu’ is sitting atop the 4 legged landing probe during the launch and voyage to the Moon.

A complex maneuver will be used to deploy the six-wheeled ‘Jade Rabbit’ rover. It will be lowered in stages to the moon’s surface and then drive off a pair of landing ramps to explore the moon’s terrain.

Watch this short CCTV news report with a cool animation showing how the ‘Yutu’ rover reaches the lunar surface.

‘Jade Rabbit’ measures 150 centimeters high and weighs approximately 120 kilograms.

The rover and lander are equipped with multiple cameras, spectrometers, an optical telescope, radar and other sensors to investigate the lunar surface and composition.

One highly anticipated highlight will be when the lander and deployed Jade Rabbit rover image each other on the surface.

The rover is expected to continue operating for at least three months.

The Chang’e 3 landing mission marks the beginning of the second phase of China’s lunar robotic exploration program.

It follows a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e 1 and 2 which launched in 2007 and 2010.

The next step will be an unmanned lunar sample return mission, perhaps around 2020.

China’s Chang’e 3 probe joins NASA’s newly arrived LADEE lunar probe which entered lunar orbit on Oct. 6 following a spectacular night time blastoff from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX, MAVEN and MOM news and Ken’s SpaceX and MAVEN launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

Aqua4U December 1, 2013 at 7:39 PM

Are the Chinese willing to share the science and data from this mission… or can we expect bare coverage or piecemeal releases (If any) here in the West?

Andrew Peart December 1, 2013 at 7:41 PM

I imagine the scientists and engineers involved in the project would be excited and thrilled to share their results with the world’s scientific community. Politics, however, will prevent that from happening.

Ken Kremer December 1, 2013 at 8:05 PM

lets wait and see. hopefully they’ll be open

Hang Wong December 2, 2013 at 12:05 AM

All the data are open, see http://moon.bao.ac.cn (Chinese)

Grimbold December 2, 2013 at 4:29 AM

Good! I imagine the Chinese will be eager to brag about their accomplishments, and rightly so.

fabuchachi December 1, 2013 at 11:59 PM

I think the rover must touchdown where the Apollo mission landed, it will erase doubts that the humans ever walked on the moon.

bhartiya888 December 2, 2013 at 6:35 AM

how about they put Chinese foot to compare if the imprints are really human?? cheers for those who dare mighty things…!!

Olaf2 December 2, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Crazy lunatics won’t be convinced by landing near the Apollo site.

However I would be a big proponent to land near the apollo site because it would return wonderful information about what happened to the materials after so long in space.

Gozlemci December 2, 2013 at 6:49 AM

Good luck to “Yutu” scientists and all of us…
After ISON dissatisfaction, we need some morale…

virender Singh December 2, 2013 at 9:15 AM

ya….really

JonHanford December 2, 2013 at 9:11 AM

Jack Rabbit??? I think something was lost in translation(i.e. Jade Rabbit).

Aqua4U December 4, 2013 at 5:11 PM

Got the lagomorph blues?

virender Singh December 2, 2013 at 9:17 AM

its great to see all countries trying to explore space but more of international cooperation is required.

Olaf2 December 2, 2013 at 1:33 PM

If you change the music with real epic bad-ass music then that clip would be a really good PR. Especially the last minute or so could be put to epic music.

Aqua4U December 6, 2013 at 11:01 PM

You want me to play my ukulele or my fiddle? Or maybe my guitar? How about the banjo?

Guest December 6, 2013 at 11:21 PM

WHILE fishing.. I sometimes play my recorder (Key of D) or my harmonica (Key of A). But the funny thing is. .when I take my mind off the fishing and get into my slippy sliding tunes.. and allow my muse…THAT’s when I get a bite!

ArnoldLayne December 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM

I’m surprised the sample return mission wouldn’t be until 2020.

China Lee December 2, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Xinhua says China’s lunar sample return mission is scheduled for 2017.
———-
“China expects to launch fifth lunar probe Chang’e-5 in 2017
news.xinhuanet.com › Home › China?Mar 2, 2011 – After Chang’e-3, China would launch Chang’e-4 with the goal of achieving … Then, in 2017, a moon rock sample will be returned to earth.”
———-
A second citation from a different source also says 2017 for lunar sample return:

“China Successfully Launches Its Lunar Lander Mission – IEEE …
spectrum.ieee.org/…/china-successfully-launches-its-lunar-lander-mission?
8 hours ago – The Chang’e-3 mission will be the first moon landing since 1976. … moon exploration program is a sample-return mission, scheduled for 2017.”

Aqua4U December 4, 2013 at 5:08 PM

Just read at Space Daily (Brand X) “Debris from the rocket carrying China’s first moon rover plummeted to earth in a village more than a thousand kilometers from the launch site, crashing into two homes, a report said Tuesday.” Bummer! Population density here in the USA got you down? It could be worse!

ericfromabeno December 6, 2013 at 10:52 PM

heh. nothing says there was population density as a factor there. other countries launch such that rocket debris that doesn’t burn up should fall into the ocean, but maybe China had reasons to launch more inland…. once that decision is made, it’s just a matter of probability whether any man-made structures could get hit by debris. Admittedly, villages tend to be relatively sparsely housed, that’s what makes them villages, in part… but there’s still a chance that a structure could get hit, regardless. So i would guess it was just a very unlikely coincidence, that’s all.

Paul Delange December 13, 2013 at 10:25 PM

Somewhat unrelated topic;

I’d like to frame the “billion pixel image” from mars curiosity and hang it on my wall, but am looking for a “fixed” version where it’s not so obvious it’s stitched together. Is the there a “photo-shopped” version of the pic out there?

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