In the coming decades, NASA has ambitious plans to send astronauts back to the Moon and conduct the first crewed mission to Mars. In order to accomplish these lofty goals, the agency is investing in cutting-edge technology and partnering with major aerospace companies to create the necessary spacecraft and mission components.
One such component, which will allow astronauts to travel to and from the lunar surface, is Lockheed Martin’s concept for a reusable lunar lander. The concept was presented today at the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany, where space agency and industry experts were treated to the latest in space exploration advancements.
Portion of 1st panorama around Chang’e-3 landing site after China’s Yutu rover drove onto the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013. The images were taken by Chang’e-3 lander following Dec. 14 touchdown. Panoramic view was created from screen shots of a news video assembled into a mosaic. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot mosaics & processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
See the complete panorama below Story updated[/caption]
China’s inaugural Chang’e-3 lunar lander has snapped the missions first panoramic view of the touchdown spot at Mare Imbrium.
To make it easier to see and sense ‘the new view from the Moon’, we have created screen shots from the rather low resolution TV broadcast and assembled them into a photo mosaic of the landing site – see above and below mosaics by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.
The Chang’e-3 mothership imaged the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft after the ‘Yutu’ rover perched atop successfully drove all six wheels onto the moon’s surface on Dec. 15, barely 7 hours after the momentous landing on Dec. 14.
Chinese scientists then pieced them together to form the lander’s first panoramic view of the lunar surface, according to CCTV.
“This picture is made of 60 pictures taken 3 times by the rover. The rover used three angles: vertical, 15 degrees tilted up, and 15 degrees down…so that we get an even farther view,” said Liu Enhai, Designer in Chief, Chang’E-3 Probe System, in a CCTV interview
The panoramic view shows ‘Yutu’ and its wheel tracks cutting a semi circular path at least several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith at the landing site at Mare Imbrium, located near the Bay of Rainbows.
A significant sized crater, several meters wide, is seen off to the left of Yutu and located only about 10 meters away from the Chang’e-3 lander.
Several more craters are visible in the pockmarked surface around the lander.
Mission leaders purposely equipped the lander with terrain recognition radar and software so that it could steer clear of hazards like craters and large boulders and find a safe spot to land.
Indeed just prior to touchdown, the lander actually hovered at an altitude of 100 meters for about 20 seconds to avoid the craters and rock fields which could have doomed the mission in its final moments.
See the dramatic Chang’e-3 landing video in my earlier report – here.
Here is our annotated screen shot from the landing video showing the eventual landing site in the distance:
“The rover reached the point of X after it went down from the lander, then it established contact with the ground. Then it went to point A, where the rover and lander took pictures of each other. Then it reached point B, where it’s standing now.” said Liu Jianjun, Deputy Chief Designer, Chang’E-3 Ground System, to CCTV.
China thus became 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.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and space agency leaders have hailed the Chang’e-3 mission as a complete success for China.
The Yutu rover, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ will use its science instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition on a minimum three month mission to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts.
The lander will conduct in-situ exploration at the landing site for at least one year, say Chinese officials.
Hopefully, China will quickly start releasing full resolution imagery and video taken by the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover at a dedicated mission website, like NASA does, rather than issuing photos of imagery from projection screens and televisions – so that we all can grasp the full beauty of their tremendous lunar feat.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.
Ken Kremer Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. [/caption]
The European Space Agency is aiming for the Moon with their Lunar Lander mission, anticipated to arrive on the lunar surface in 2018. Although ESA successfully put a lander on Titan with the Huygens probe in 2005, this will be the first European spacecraft to visit the surface of Earth’s Moon.
Although Lunar Lander will be an unmanned robotic explorer, the mission will be a forerunner to future human exploration of the Moon as well as Mars. Lunar Lander will use advanced technologies for autonomous landing and will be able to determine the best location for touchdown on its own, utilizing lasers to avoid obstacles on the Moon’s surface.
With no GPS on the Moon, Lunar Lander will navigate by digitally imaging the surface on the fly. Landing will be accomplished via thrusters, which were successfully tested earlier this year at a test chamber in Germany.
Lunar Lander’s destination will be the Moon’s south pole, where no exploration missions have ever landed. Once on the lunar surface, the Lander will investigate Moon dust using a robotic arm and a suite of onboard diagnostic instruments, sending data and images back to scientists on Earth for further study.
Watch a video of the Lunar Lander mission below, from launch to landing.
Read more about Lunar Lander on the ESA site here.