China’s Yutu Moon rover starts Lunar Day 4 Awake but Ailing

Chang’e-3/Yutu Timelapse Color Panorama
This newly expanded timelapse composite view shows China’s Yutu moon rover at two positions passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever about a week after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown at Mare Imbrium. This cropped view was taken from the 360-degree timelapse panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site timelapse panorama herein and APOD Feb. 3, 2014. Chang’e-3 landers extreme ultraviolet (EUV) camera is at right, antenna at left. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo –
See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – China’s maiden moon rover Yutu awoke from her regular two week long slumber on Friday, March 14, to begin the 4th Lunar Day since the probes history making touchdown on the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor in mid December 2013.

But the endearing robot is still ailing and suffering from mechanical control issues that popped up in late January 2014 according to Chinese space officials.

The Chang’e-3 mothership lander that deposited Yutu onto the pockmarked lunar surface also awoke two days earlier on Wednesday, March 12.

“Yutu and the lander have restarted their operations and are exploring as scheduled,” according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), responsible for executing the Chang’e-3 mission.

Yutu rover drives around Chang’e-3 lander – from Above And Below. Composite view shows China’s Yutu rover and tracks driving in clockwise direction around Chang’e-3 lander from Above And Below (orbit and surface). The Chang’e-3 timelapse lander color panorama (bottom) and orbital view (top) from NASA’s LRO orbiter shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side, passing by craters and heading south on Lunar Day 1. It then moved northwest during Lunar Day 2. Arrows show Yutu’s positions over time. Credit: CNSA/NASA/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo/Mark Robinson

Yutu is China’s first ever Moon rover and successfully accomplished a soft landing on the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013, piggybacked atop the Chang’e-3 mothership lander.

However, “the control issues that have troubled Yutu since January remain,” says China’s government owned Xinhua news agency.

The hugely popular ‘Yutu’ rover is still suffering from an inability to maneuver its life giving solar panels. It is also unable to activate its six wheels and move around the surface – as I reported here.

At the time that Yutu’s 2nd Lunar sleep period began on Jan. 25, 2014, Chinese space officials had announced that the robot’s future was in jeopardy after it suffered an unidentified “ mechanical control anomaly” due to the “complicated lunar surface.”

360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander
This new 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at five different positions, including passing by crater and heading south and away from the Chang’e-3 lunar landing site forever during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-22, 2013 during the 1st Lunar Day. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:

Earlier this month, China announced that “Yutu suffered a control circuit malfunction in its driving unit.”

“The control circuit problem prevented Yutu from entering the second dormancy as planned,” said Ye Peijian, chief scientist of the Chang’e-3 program, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.

A functioning control circuit is required to lower the rovers mast and protect the delicate components and instruments mounted on the mast from directly suffering from the extremely harsh cold of the Moon’s recurring night time periods.

“Normal dormancy needs Yutu to fold its mast and solar panels,” said Ye according to CCTV, China’s state run broadcaster.

Fortunately, the panoramic camera, radar and other sciene instruments and equipment are functioning normally, says SASTIND.

Yutu even snapped at least a pair new images of the lander during Lunar Day 3.

See our mosaic of Yutu’s Lunar Day 3 lander image as well as our the complete 360 degree timelapse color panorama from Lunar Day 1 herein and at NASA APOD on Feb. 3, 2014 – assembled by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Mosaic of the Chang’e-3 moon lander and the lunar surface taken by the camera on China’s Yutu moon rover from a position south of the lander during Lunar Day 3. Note the landing ramp and rover tracks at left. Credit: CNSA/SASTIND/Xinhua/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

By reawakening on March 14, the 140 kg robot also survived for its three month design lifetime on the moon.

Yutu’s goal is to accomplish a roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

So far the 1200 kg Chang’e-3 lander is functioning as planned during its first three lunar days, says SASTIND.

“The lander’s optical telescope, extreme ultraviolet camera and lunar dust measurement device completed scheduled tasks and obtained a large amount of data,” says China’s government owned Xinhua news agency.

China is only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth’s nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news. Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF astro/space convention on April 12/13.

Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC,, Spaceflight Now, Science 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, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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