China’s Maiden Moon Rover Mission Chang’e 3 Achieves Lunar Orbit

Article written: 7 Dec , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015

China’s maiden moon landing probe successfully entered lunar orbit on Friday, Dec. 6, following Sunday’s (Dec. 1) spectacular blastoff – setting the stage for the historic touchdown attempt in mid December.

Engineer’s at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) commanded the Chang’e 3 lunar probe to fire its braking thrusters for 361 seconds, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.

The do or die orbital insertion maneuver proceeded precisely as planned at the conclusion of a four and a half day voyage to Earth’s nearest neighbor.

China’s ‘Yutu’ lunar lander is riding piggyback atop the four legged landing probe during the history making journey from the Earth to the Moon.

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 China time (Dec. 1 EST) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, China. Credit: CCTV

The critical engine burn placed Chang’e 3 into its desired 100 kilometer (60 mi.) high circular orbit above the Moon’s surface at 5:53 p.m. Friday, Beijing Time (4:53 a.m. EST).

An engine failure would have doomed the mission.

Chang’e 3 is due to make a powered descent to the Moon’s surface on Dec. 14, firing the landing thrusters at an altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing in a preselected area called the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum region.

The Bay of Rainbows is a lava filled crater located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. It is 249 km in diameter.

The variable thrust engine can continuously vary its thrust power between 1,500 to 7,500 newtons, according to Xinhua.

The lander is equipped with terrain recognition equipment and software to avoid rock and boulder fields that could spell catastrophe in the final seconds before touchdown if vehicle were to land directly on top of them.

The voyage began with the flawless launch of Chang’e 3 atop China’s Long March 3-B booster 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.

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.

Chang’e 3 targeted lunar landing site in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum

Chang’e 3 targeted lunar landing site in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum

The name for the ‘Yutu’ rover – which means ‘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 six-wheeled ‘Yutu’ rover will be lowered in stages to the moon’s surface in a complex operation and then drive off a pair of landing ramps to explore the moon’s terrain.

Yutu 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.

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

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

The lander 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 by 2020.

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

Stay tuned here for continuing Chang’e 3, LADEE, 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


Learn more about Chang’e 3, SpaceX, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Dec 10: “Antares ISS Launch from Virginia, Mars and SpaceX Mission Update”, Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

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29 Responses

  1. Olaf2 says

    I am very exited. Finally some close-up images of the moon surface itself.
    I am more excited about the Chinese space program that will put an astronaut on the Moon right now than the asteroid capturing program if the US.

  2. seamus mcdermott says

    Coverage is really quite sparse. Not even the Chinese news agency is doing much live reporting. Thanks to UT for their interest and coverage.

  3. SgtBeavis says

    I wish them wild success. Not only for the scientific value and prestige they will deservedly get from this, but also for the fire they may possibly light under the butts of US politicians..

  4. Andrew says

    It’s interesting to hear when people try to counter the argument that the Chinese Space Program is doing a lot better than the United States’. The thing is that they ARE doing better. Has NASA landed multiple rovers on Mars? Yes, which is much more difficult than going to the Moon. But here’s the kicker: the Chinese probes are precursors to manned missions, while NASA has no real intention of sending humans anywhere other than low Earth orbit.

  5. Cheng Jia says

    Chang’e 5 is already under development, and will be launched at 2018 by CZ5 at the newly built space center at Wenchang, Hainan.

  6. Siegfried Marquardt says

    Chinese as the first on the moon!
    The Chinese is to be congratulated : you will land first with the spacecraft chance 3 on the earth satellite with the moon vehicle Yutu and there perform a field trip / expedition with the Jadehasen . Just great ! Pretty solid work ! With this lunar excursion also the Apollo program has been refuted and discredited forever ! Because According to Chinese sources , the probe is at a distance 200000-380000 km orbit around the earth 14 days and then push the moon landing . Supposedly, the Americans are with Apollo 11 directly in the summer of 1969 in the form of an eight have reached the moon directly in just four days (see the Internet Apollo 11). This is astrophysical nonsense. Indeed, there are only two fourteen- day regimen and a 60-day scenario , to reach direct route to the moon, if one disregards low-energy loops , so-called trajectories which are but up to half a year (see Smart 1 in 2003) . The 120- kg vehicle of the Chinese will easily reach the moon’s surface , because this is only expected for a first estimation of a scarce ton rocket fuel is required {[ 2.71 high ( 3.2 / 2.6 ) -1 ] * 400 kg = 929 kg } . When Apollo 11 had to be braced to the moon 45 t . These were , according to conservative calculations, approximately 45 t even have been necessary – for the entire flight to the moon and back more than 100 t of additional rocket fuel as declared . The final stage of Apollo 11 was one of only 120 tons of rocket fuel to reach the first and second cosmic velocity can . And the command – service module (CSM ) along with the Lunar Module ( Lunar Module ) only had just a fuel reserve of 20 t . Simply utopian to realize the project at that time at all. Yes, and who actually Lunochod filmed on the moon? The man in the moon?
    As the above article was written , the parameters of the Chinese spacecraft Chang ` e-3 were the author not known. The parameters were therefore estimated roughly and carried out on the basis of these estimates, the above calculation . A search on the Internet revealed that the total mass of the spacecraft Mo1 = should be 2.35 and t = includes the landing mass of the lunar module Mo2 1.2 t . This now allowed for a more precise calculation .
    Starting from the Rocket Equation
    vB = ve * ln ( Mo / Ml ), (1 )
    wherein BB is the path velocity ( the difference between the first cosmic velocity of 7.9 km / s and the second cosmic speed of 11.2 km / s) and Ml is supposed to represent the unladen mass of the probe , the above formula can be used to be clarified determination of the amount of fuel MTr as follows. It is then quite trivl
    vB = ve * ln ( Mo / Mo MTr ) . (2)
    After transformation and conversion of ( 2) , the amount of fuel MTr calculated to
    MTr = Mo * [ 1-1/ehoch (vB / ve ) ] , (3)
    Thus, the amount of fuel to achieve the second cosmic velocity is calculated to
    MTr (1) = 2.35 t * [ 1-1/2 , 72hoch (3,3 / 4) ] = 1,32 t . (4)
    There are thus not around 0.93 t , 1.32 t but rocket fuel needed to reach the second cosmic speed. And to would be to land on the Moon
    MTr (2) = 1.2 t * [ 1-1/2 , 72hoch ( 2.6 / 2.6 ) ] = 0.76 t ( 5)
    necessary. Striking and convincing is the Chinese concept because here present realistic parameters. Hence, we are not questions of faith , but to the physical feasibility of the project.
    Siegfried Marquardt, King Wusterhausen

    • Olaf2 says

      What a lot of crap in this post.
      And yes making up crappy pseudo formulas won’t hide the crap you are spouting.

    • Olaf2 says

      And the numbers you provided are completely wrong.

      It launched at 2 December. it arrived at 6 December and is in orbit around the moon now at 100 km from its surface. And it is going to land on 14 December. (It could land right now)

    • Malcome51 says

      Slow down there. Type your thoughts, then stop and read it. Correct grammar, and restructure sentences. Then we might be able to understand the Bull Dung you are spewing!

  7. UFOsMOTHER says

    This is great news, well done China, its been 37 years since the former Soviet Union landed Luna 24 in Mare Crisium (Sea of Crisis) back in 1976 which returned 170.1 grams (6 oz) of Lunar samples back to Earth on 22 August 1976, thumbs up for China and I wish you great success, bon voyage…

  8. Dave Wain says

    Nice piece of work. I hope NASA will also consider using future rovers on the Moon as well as on Mars.

  9. UFOsMOTHER says

    Now that we know there is water ice on the moon we should go back there ASAP and
    make a permanent manned site there for exploration and as a starting point for a Mars Landing

    • Malcome51 says

      I notice the Chinese claim to have a radar system that can penetrate over 100m into the lunar interior. Could that be to asses the density of the bedrock for permanent installations?

      • UFOsMOTHER says

        Thanks Malcome51 that’s news to me but im sure China wants to have a permanent base on the moon and now they have the money to do it..

      • stuff says

        now pls list all of mars rover’s achievements and analyze how that could be for assesSing the planet for permanent installations

  10. Julia Anter says

    This blog was very interesting to read. I don’t know a lot about space programs in other countries so learning about Chang’e 3 was really fascinating. In addition to China, I would love to know more about the progress other countries’ space programs have made.

  11. SoC says

    Always was disheartened that we stopped going to the moon. Excited that this is happening. Maybe some new discoveries will be made.

  12. Malcome51 says

    I agree. I’m excited to see this be a successful Chinese lunar mission. However most of the lander photo’s I’ve been able to find look like CGI, or on static display with people looking at it. I’ve yet to see any live or recorded coverage. This could be quite a monumental event if China wouldn’t censor coverage. The coverage I’ve seen so far is like reading it in the “Weekly Reader” I read in elementary school. Not just on UT, but Google searches also.

    • Guest says

      Please just look below:)

      • stuff says

        hmm what’s below? but in any case, since the message was 3hrs before I read the article, guess he was addressing malcome51;

        although since I’m here, I should like to add that his internet search ability is conspicuously and “monumentally” missing

    • stuff says

      and why would China censor coverage? and why would people factor in your viewing pleasure when planning what to record or not record in a mission?

      Imagine if China did significant coverage, China would be branded as boasting a program that the Soviet has achieved 50 years ago, that the space program is illegitimate b/c there are still people below poverty line, that it has military applications b/c China should not be allowed to have scissors or any type of tools while the US bleeds China dry.

      Yes, we would see the “free world” media jeering with all kinds of spins. Hows that for your viewing pleasure lol, but do knock yourself out, indulge.

  13. Junhan Ma says

    The 1:1 model of Chinese Lunar Rover “Yutu”(“Jade Rabbit”) carried by Chang’E 3 Lander. Two NavCams(left, “black”) and two PanCams(right, “red”) and Directional Antenna can be seen on the mast. Two HazCams are on the low-front side. The “slope” below the Chinese National Flag is an Infrared Imaging Spectrometer. On the right side of the Flag, the guy with many “tentacles” is a Lattice Laser-Beams Generator. The only instrument on the end of robotic arm is called Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer(APXS), which has also been used on Spirit and Opportunity’s arms. The small “cylindrical envelope” will ensure APXS survive from the lunar night. Ground Penetrating Radar, which contains two slim antennas, is on the rear side of the rover(hardly can be seen in this picture).

  14. Junhan Ma says

    As a Chinese, I should tell you that Chinese manned lunar mission has not been projected yet.

    • Andrew says

      Really?? Because that’s not what I’ve literally everywhere else. Maybe no specific missions have been laid out yet, but I’m almost positive they’re planning a manned mission there sometime in about 10 years.

  15. Ken Plant says

    Everyone remember that the US lander made no dust fly up from a surface coated with dust. Lets see the U.S. media black out the China landing like they did when North Korea bombed the oil well in the gulf of Mexico with threats of death to the media if they filmed anything……..

  16. stuff says

    where did your urge to over-share come from? to prove urself worthy? so the “free world” has but to laugh at you for you to fork over all information.they had no business nosing into the first place

    let me advise you of the proper response, the “free world” says: the chinese suck, Chinese response should be: ignore it and forge the way. The response is certainly not, omg here, i don’t suck, look at all i’ve done, you don’t need the NSA, let me prove to you i’m a human being

    • Junhan Ma says

      I just wanna share you about some information I’ve got IN CHINESE, but really donnot interest in anything about politics, which is so boring. As an individual amateur, not goverment official, I don’t need to think about any advice to let me know how to response, but any interesting thing about science and universe. Thank you all the same.

  17. Junhan Ma says

    Thank you for your confidence. As I know, the heavy rocket like Saturn V for manned lunar mission, called CZ-9 or LM-9, is still under discussion so far.

  18. Xnerdz says

    They landed! Great job China!

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