China’s Chang’e-3 Lander and Yutu Moon Rover – from Above and Below

Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – from Above And Below
Composite view shows China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover from Above And Below (orbit and surface) – lander color panorama (top) and orbital view from NASA’s LRO orbiter (bottom). Chang’e-3 lander color panorama shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side to the south. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama and the LROC image from LRO (taken at a later date after the rover had moved), red lines indicate approximate field of view of the lander panorama. Credit: CNSA/NASA/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo/Mark Robinson
See further composite and panorama views below
Story updated
See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html[/caption]

China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu moon rover have been imaged from above and below – in one of those rare, astounding circumstances when space probes from Earth are exploring an extraterrestrial body both from orbit and the surface. And it’s even more amazing when these otherworldly endeavors just happen to overlap and involve actual work in progress to expand human knowledge of the unknown.

And it’s even rarer, when those images stem from active space probes built by two different countries on Earth.

Well by combining imagery from America’s space agency, NASA, and China’s space agency, CNSA, we are pleased to present some breathtaking views of ‘Chang’e-3 and the Yutu rover from Above and Below.’

Check out our composite mosaic (above) combining the view from the Moon’s orbit snapped by the hi res camera aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) with our new color panoramas from the Moon’s surface, compiling imagery from the landing site of China’s Chang’e-3 lander – with Yutu in transit in mid-Dec. 2013 soon after the successful touchdown.

See below an earlier composite mosaic using the first black and white panorama from the Chang’e-3 Moon lander.

Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – from Above And Below  Composite view shows China’s Chang'e-3 lander and Yutu rover from Above And Below (orbit and surface) - lander panorama (top) and orbital view from NASA’s LRO orbiter (bottom).  Chang'e-3 lander B/W panorama from camera shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side to the south. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama and the LROC image from LRO (taken at a later date after the rover had moved), red lines indicate approximate field of view of the lander panorama.    Credit: CNSA/NASA/Mark Robinson/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – from Above And Below
Composite view shows China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover from Above And Below (orbit and surface) – lander panorama (top) and orbital view from NASA’s LRO orbiter (bottom). Chang’e-3 lander B/W panorama from camera shows Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving around the landers right side to the south. Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama and the LROC image from LRO (taken at a later date after the rover had moved), red lines indicate approximate field of view of the lander panorama. Credit: CNSA/NASA/Mark Robinson/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The composite mosaic combines the efforts of Mark Robinson, Principal Investigator for the LRO camera, and the imaging team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.

On Christmas eve, Dec. 24, 2013, NASA’s LRO captured it’s first images of China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu moon rover – barely 10 days after the history making touchdown on Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) and just 60 meters east of the rim of a 450 meter diameter impact crater.

LRO was orbiting about 150 kilometers above Chang’e-3 and Yutu when the highest resolution orbital image was taken on 24 December 22:52:49 EST (25 December 03:52:49 UT).

Image of Chang'e-3 (top arrow) and Yutu rover captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 25 UTC
Image of Chang’e-3 (top arrow) and Yutu rover captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 24, 2013

The orbital imagery was taken by the LRO orbiters high resolution Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) – specifically the narrow angle camera (NAC).

See below my pre-launch cleanroom photo of LRO and the LROC cameras and other science instruments.

The Chang’e-3 lander color panorama shows the Yutu rover after it drove down the ramp to the moon’s surface and began driving a significant distance around the landers right side on its journey heading southwards.

1st 360 Degree Color Panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 Lunar Lander. This 1st color panorama from Chang’e-3 lander shows the view all around the landing site after the ‘Yutu’ lunar rover left impressive tracks behind when it initially rolled all six wheels onto the pockmarked and gray lunar terrain on Dec. 15, 2013. Mosaic Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com
1st 360 Degree Color Panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 Lunar Lander
This 1st color panorama from Chang’e-3 lander shows the view all around the landing site after the ‘Yutu’ lunar rover left impressive tracks behind when it initially rolled all six wheels onto the pockmarked and gray lunar terrain on Dec. 15, 2013. Mosaic Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com

Yellow lines connect craters seen in the lander panorama to those seen in the LROC hi res NAC image from LRO, in the composite view.

Robinson identified the lunar craters and determined the field of view on the LROC image.

The LRO image was taken at a later date (on Christmas eve) after the rover had already moved. Red lines on the orbital image indicate the approximate field of view of what is seen in the Chang’e-3 lander panorama.

Although Yutu is only about 150 cm wide – which is the same as the pixel size – it shows up in the NAC images for two reasons.

“The solar panels are very effective at reflecting light so the rover shows up as two bright pixels, and the Sun is setting thus the rover casts a distinct shadow (as does the lander),” says NASA in a statement.

In a historic first for China, the Chang’e-3 spacecraft safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium near the Bay of Rainbows nearly seven weeks ago on Dec. 14, 2013.

Seven hours later, the piggybacked 140 kg Yutu robot drove off a pair of ramps, onto the Moon and into the history books.

Yutu was about 10 meters away from the 1200 kg stationary lander when the lander panoramic images were taken.

The lander and Yutu were just completing their 1st Lunar Day of explorations when the LROC images were taken, and entered their first period of hibernation soon thereafter on Dec. 25 (Christmas Day) and Dec 26 respectively coinciding with the start of their 1st Lunar Night.

Both spacecraft awoke and functioned well during their 2nd Lunar Day, which just ended.

However, Yutu’s future mission is now in jeopardy following a serious mechanical anomaly this past weekend as both vehicles entered their 2nd hibernation period.

Apparently one of the solar panels did not fold back properly – perhaps due to dust accumulation – and its instruments may not survive.

Read my full story for complete details – here.

Yutu’s fate will remain unknown until the 3rd Lunar Day starts around Feb. 8 or 9.

So, What’s the terrain like at the Mare Imbrium landing site?

Chang’e-3 landed on a thick deposit of volcanic material.

“A large scale wrinkle ridge (~100 km long, 10 km wide) cuts across the area and was formed as tectonic stress caused the volcanic layers to buckle and break along faults. Wrinkle ridges are common on the Moon, Mercury and Mars,” says Robinson.

“The landing site is on a blue mare (higher titanium) thought to be about 3.0 billion years old.”

Older red mare about from 3.5 billion years is only 10 km to the north, he notes.

See our Chang’e-3 color panoramas now featured at NBC News and Space.com

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 news.

Ken Kremer

LRO LROC Wide angle camera (WAC) color (689 nm, 415 nm, 321 nm) overlain on WAC sunset BW image. Note the proximity of the landing site to a contact between red and blue maria.  Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) LROC Wide angle camera (WAC) color (689 nm, 415 nm, 321 nm) overlain on WAC sunset BW image. Note the proximity of the landing site to a contact between red and blue maria. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
LRO spacecraft (top) protected by gray colored blankets is equipped with 7 science instruments located at upper right side of spacecraft. Payload fairing in background protects the spacecraft during launch and ascent. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA’s LRO spacecraft (top) protected by gray colored blankets is equipped with 7 science instruments located at upper right side of spacecraft. LRO is piggybacked atop NASA’s LCROSS spacecraft. Payload fairing in background protects the spacecraft during launch and ascent on Atlas V rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer

Yutu rover Suffers Significant Setback at Start of 2nd Lunar Night


China’s
maiden moon rover ‘Yutu’ has just suffered a significant mechanical setback right at the start of her 2nd lunar night, according to an official announcement from Chinese space officials made public this weekend.

The six wheeled Yutu rover, which means ‘Jade Rabbit’, has “experienced a mechanical control abnormality” in a new report by China’s official government newspaper, The People’s Daily.

‘Jade Rabbit’ was traversing southwards from the landing site as the incident occurred just days ago – about six weeks into its planned 3 month moon roving expedition.

However very few details have emerged or been released by the Chinese government about Yutu’s condition or fate.

“Scientists are organizing repairs,” wrote the People’s Daily.

The abnormality occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface environment,” said the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) in a brief statement, without giving further details, according to the paper.

This situation is very serious because the “abnormality” took place just prior to the beginning of the 2nd lunar night and unavoidable ‘dormancy’ for both ‘Jade Rabbit’ and the Chang’e-3 mothership.

So it’s not clear at this time if Chinese space engineers were able to take any concrete actions to rectify the unspecified problem before both spacecraft entered their next two week long night time slumber.

Based on unofficial accounts, it appears that one of the solar panels did not fold back properly over Yutu’s mast after it was lowered to the required horizontal position into a warmed box to shield and protect it from the extremely frigid lunar night time temperatures.

That could potentially spell doom for the mast mounted instruments and electronic systems, including the color and navigation cameras and the high gain antenna, if true.

Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface.  Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang’e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

The now world famous rover entered its second hibernation period at dawn on Saturday, Jan. 25, as the lunar night fell, according to the SASTIND statement.

The mothership “fell asleep” a day earlier on Friday, Jan 24.

Each ship had just completed their 2nd Lunar Day of operations and had apparently been functioning normally and taking planned scientific measurements and imagery.

The research program during Lunar Day 2 included optical telescope observations of the sky, extreme ultraviolent (EUV) observations of the Earth’s plasmasphere, subsurface radar measurements, and spectroscopic measurements with Yutu’s robotic arm.

Both vehicles depend on their life giving solar panels to produce power in order to function and accomplish their scientific tasks during each Lunar day which lasts approximately 14 days.

Likewise, each Lunar night also lasts approximately 14 Earth days.

In order to survive into the next Lunar day, they must each endure the utterly harsh and unforgiving lunar environment when the Moon’s temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

So they must enter a sleep mode to conserve energy since there is no sunlight to generate power with the solar arrays during the lunar night.

360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions 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 – kenkremer.com
360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander
This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions 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 – kenkremer.com

During the nocturnal hiatus they are kept alive by a radioisotopic heat source that keeps their delicate computer and electronics subsystems warmed inside a box below the deck. It must be maintained at a temperature of about minus 40 degrees Celsius to prevent debilitating damage.

In a historic first for China, the Chang’e-3 spacecraft safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium near the Bay of Rainbows some six weeks ago on Dec. 14, 2013.

Seven hours later, the piggybacked 140 kg Yutu robot drove off a pair of ramps, onto the Moon and into the history books.

Is it Farewell Forever Yutu ??

We don’t know yet.

And since there is no communication possible during sleep mode, no one will know until the resumption of daylight some two weeks from now – around Feb. 8 to 9.

Traverse Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang'e 3 imagery from space and ground.  Credit: CNSA/BACC
Traverse Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang’e 3 imagery from space and ground. Credit: CNSA/BACC

Whatever happens, China can be proud of their magnificent accomplishment with the Yutu rover and the 1200 kg stationary Change’-3 lander which has reinvigorated lunar surface exploration after a nearly 40 year gap.

And we wish China’s scientists and engineers well !

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.

Meanwhile as we await the fate of China’s Yutu rover trundling across pitted moonscapes, NASA’s Opportunity rover is in the midst of Martian mountaineering at the start of Decade 2 on the Red Planet and younger sister Curiosity is speeding towards the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

China’s Yutu rover trundles across the Moon in Time-lapse Panorama

This time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at two different positions during its trek over the Moon’s surface at its landing site from Dec. 15-18, 2013. This view was taken from a 360-degree panorama – see below.
Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
Story updated
This mosaic was selected as Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb. 3, 2014
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html[/caption]

A new time-lapse photomosaic shows China’s Yutu rover dramatically trundling across the Moon’s stark gray terrain in the first week after she rolled all six wheels onto the desolate lunar plains.

Our complete time-lapse mosaic (see below) shows Yutu at three different positions trekking around the landing site, and gives a real sense of how it is maneuvering around – on the 1st Lunar Day.

The 360-degree panoramic mosaic was created from images captured by the color camera aboard China’s Chang’e-3 lander, the country’s first spacecraft to successfully soft land on the Moon.

The time-lapse mosaic was stitched together by the imaging team of scientists Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo using images just released on a Chinese language website.

We integrated the wide screen panorama with additional images of Yutu taken by the lander as she roved around the right side of the mothership during her 1st Lunar Day – to create the new time-lapse panorama.

To me the moonscape is rather reminiscent of the scenery from NASA’s manned Apollo lunar landing missions which took place over 4 decades ago – from 1969 to 1972.

360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions 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 – kenkremer.com
360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander This 360-degree time-lapse color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows the Yutu rover at three different positions 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 – kenkremer.com

Our time-lapse Yutu mosaic was initially featured at NBC News by Alan Boyle – here.

Here’s the original 360 degree panorama:

1st 360 Degree Color Panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 Lunar Lander. This 1st color panorama from Chang’e-3 lander shows the view all around the landing site after the ‘Yutu’ lunar rover left impressive tracks behind when it initially rolled all six wheels onto the pockmarked and gray lunar terrain on Dec. 15, 2013. Mosaic Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com
1st 360 Degree Color Panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 Lunar Lander. This 1st color panorama from Chang’e-3 lander shows the view all around the landing site after the ‘Yutu’ lunar rover left impressive tracks behind when it initially rolled all six wheels onto the pockmarked and gray lunar terrain on Dec. 15, 2013. Mosaic Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com

The first portrait of Yutu was taken shortly after it first drove off the 1200 kg Chang’e-3 lander on Dec. 15. The last Yutu position shows her heading off to the south and departing the landing site forever.

She’s not ever coming back to see the stationary lander again, according to China’s Chang’e-3 mission team.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’, is on her own from now on.

This composite view shows China’s Yutu rover heading south and away forever from the Chang’e-3 landing site about a week after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown at Mare Imbrium. This cropped view was taken from the 360-degree panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site panorama below. Chang’e-3 landers extreme ultraviolet (EUV) camera is at right, antenna at left. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com
This composite view shows China’s Yutu rover heading south and away forever from the Chang’e-3 landing site about a week after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown at Mare Imbrium. This cropped view was taken from the 360-degree panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site panorama herein. Chang’e-3 landers extreme ultraviolet (EUV) camera is at right, antenna at left. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com

Chang’e-3 safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium near the Bay of Rainbows on Dec. 14, 2013.

Seven hours later, the piggybacked 140 kg Yutu robot drove off a pair of ramps, onto the Moon and into the history books.

Here is the initial black and white panoramic version from the Chang’e-3 navigation camera – which we assembled from screenshots taken as it was twirling about in a CCTV news video report.

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
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

The Chang’e-3 mothership and Yutu rover are now working during their 2nd Lunar Day, having survived the harsh extremes of their 1st Lunar Night when temperatures plummeted to below minus 180 degrees Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

They have resumed full operation and are conducting research investigations. Each is equipped with four science instruments.

All the equipment is functioning well except alas for the color camera used to snap the images for the photomosaics herein.

Photo of Chang'e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013. Credit: CNSA
Photo of Chang’e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013. Credit: CNSA

China’s official Xinhua new agency reports that the instruments aboard the lander and rover have each collected a large amount of data about the Moon, Earth and celestial objects.

Scientists have created a star atlas around the constellation Draco and used the ground penetrating radar to survey the moon’s subsurface and soil structure to depths of 10 to 140 meters.

Meanwhile as China’s Yutu rover trundles across pitted moonscapes, NASA’s Opportunity rover is in the midst of Martian mountaineering at the start of Decade 2 on the Red Planet and younger sister Curiosity is speeding towards the sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Traverse Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang'e 3 imagery from space and ground.  Credit: CNSA/BACC
Traverse Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang’e 3 imagery from space and ground. Credit: CNSA/BACC

China’s Historic Moon Robot Duo Awaken from 1st Long Frigid Night and Resume Science Operations

Chinese Moon Robots Wake up
Photo of Chang’e-3 moon lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag taken by the panoramic camera on the Yutu moon rover on Dec. 22, 2013. Credit: CNSA
Story updated[/caption]

Chinese Moon Robots Wake up!

China’s history making moon robots – the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover – have just awoken from the forced slumber of survival during their first, long frigid lunar night and have now resumed full operations – marking a major milestone in the mission.

This landmark achievement offers a realistic prognosis that the best is yet to come for this new dynamic duo of robots dispatched from Earth!

The stationary lander and six wheeled rover were autonomously revived from their dormant mode this weekend.

Both were then placed back into full working science mode in response to commands issued by Chinese space engineers at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), according to CCTV, China’s official government broadcast network.

Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang'e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface.  Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Portrait photo of Yutu moon rover taken by camera on the Chang’e-3 moon lander on Dec. 15, 2013 shortly after rolling all 6 wheels onto lunar surface. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Yutu woke up first on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 5:09 a.m. Beijing local time.

The Chang’e-3 lander was awoken on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 8:21 a.m. Beijing local time, according to a BACC statement.

Both vehicles depend on their life giving solar panels to produce power in order to function and accomplish their scientific tasks.

They went to sleep to conserve energy since there is no sunlight to generate power with the solar arrays during the lunar night.

During the nocturnal hiatus they were kept alive by a radioisotopic heat source that kept their delicate computer and electronics subsystems warmed inside a box below the deck. It was maintained at a temperature of about minus 40 degrees Celsius to prevent debilitating damage

The simple fact that both spacecraft survived half a month through the extremely harsh lunar night time environment when temperatures plunged to below minus 180 degrees Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit, and then restarted intact, proves the resiliency and robustness of China’s space technology.

“During the lunar night, the lander and the rover were in a power-off condition and the communication with Earth was also cut off,” said Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer of the BACC, to CCTV.

The "Yutu" rover and the Chang’e-3 lander began functioning again on Jan 11 & 12, 2014 in this artists concept. Both had become dormant to ride out the harsh conditions on the moon. Credit: CNSA/CCTV
The “Yutu” rover and the Chang’e-3 lander began functioning again on Jan 11 & 12, 2014 in this artists concept. Both had become dormant to ride out the harsh conditions on the moon. Credit: CNSA/CCTV

“When the night ends, they will be started up with the power provided by sunlight and resume operation and communication according to preset programs,” Zhou said.

As night fell on the Earth’s Moon at Christmas time 2013, Yutu and the mother ship lander both entered a state of hibernation – determined to survive the utterly harsh lunar darkness upon the magnificently desolate gray plains.

The mother ship began her nap first on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. Yutu went to sleep on Dec. 26 obeying commands sent by mission control at BACC, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

Just prior to hibernating, the lander snapped the first image of the Earth taken from the Moon’s surface in some four decades. See below.

The Earth from the Moon – by Chang’e-3 on Christmas Day Lander camera snapped this image on Christmas Day 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
The Earth from the Moon – by Chang’e-3 on Christmas Day
Lander camera snapped this image on Christmas Day 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Now with the dawn of daylight the solar panels were unfurled and the instruments activated on both robots.

Yutu has already resumed roving towards pristine, unexplored lunar terrain surrounding the touchdown zone at Mare Imbrium, nearby the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region.

After driving in a semicircular path around the right side of the stationary lander, and snapping portraits of one another at 5 preselected locations, Yutu parked some 40 meters south of the mother ship – after touchdown and prior to the start of lunar night.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’, is departing the landing zone forever, trekking southwards for surface investigations expected to last at least 3 months – and perhaps longer depending on its robustness in the unforgiving space environment.

The Chang’e-3 lander should survive at least a year.

“They will begin to conduct scientific explorations of the geography and geomorphology of the landing spot and nearby areas, and materials like minerals and elements there,” noted Wu Weiren, chief designer of China Lunar Probe Program.

“We will also explore areas 30 meters and 100 meters beneath the lunar soil. The exploration will continue longer than we planned, because all the instruments and equipments are working very well.”

‘Jade Rabbit’ and the lander will use their suites of science instruments including cameras, telescopes, spectrometers and ground penetrating radar to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts.

The robotic pair safely soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14 at Mare Imbrium, located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. Seven hour later on Dec. 15, Yutu rolled all 6 wheels onto the moon’s surface, leaving tracks behind as it cut into the loose regolith.

Presumably they will continue exploring for about the next 14 days – the entire time span of their 2nd Lunar Day, unless they need to take a break from the high daylight temperatures.

Thereafter Yutu and Chang’e-3 will function in alternating cycles of 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off for the duration of their independent working lifetimes.

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, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Yutu Flexes Robot Arm then Enters Hibernation During Long Lunar Night

1st Chang’e-3 Lunar Panorama
Portion of 1st panorama around Chang’e-3 landing site showing China’s Yutu rover leaving tracks in the lunar soil as it drives across the Moon’s surface on Dec. 15, 2013. Images 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 below robotic arm screenshots – – Story updated [/caption]

As night fell on the Earth’s Moon, China’s Yutu rover and mothership lander have both entered a state of hibernation determined to survive the frigidly harsh lunar night upon the magnificently desolate gray plains.

Yutu went to sleep at 5:23 a.m. Dec. 26, Beijing time, upon a command sent by mission control at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC), according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND).

The Chang’e-3 lander began its long nap hours earlier at 11:00 a.m. Beijing time on Christmas Day, Dec. 25.

The vehicles must now endure the lunar night, which spans 14 Earth days in length, as well as the utterly low temperatures which plunge to below minus 180 degrees Celsius.

Yutu rover points mast with cameras and high gain antenna to inspect lunar soil around landing site in this photo taken by Chang’e-3 lander. Credit: CNSA
Yutu rover points mast with cameras and high gain antenna downwards to inspect lunar soil around landing site in this photo taken by Chang’e-3 lander. Credit: CNSA

Scientists completed a series of engineering tests on the probes to ensure they were ready to withstand the steep temperature drop, said Wu Fenglei of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center, to the Xinhua state news agency.

Since there is no sunlight, the solar panels can’t provide any power and have been folded back.

So they face a massive engineering challenge to endure the extremely cold lunar night.

Therefore in order to survive the frigid lunar environment, a radioisotopic heat source is onboard to provide heat to safeguard the rovers and landers delicate computer and electronics subsystems via the thermal control system.

They are situated inside a warmed box below the deck that must be maintained at a minimum temperature of about minus 40 degrees Celsius to prevent debilitating damage.

Yutu prepares to flex robotic arm in this screen shot from a  CCTV video animation. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot by R. Mackelenbergh/K. Kremer/M. Di Lorenzo
Yutu prepares to flex robotic arm in this screen shot from a CCTV video animation. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot by R. Mackelenbergh/K. Kremer/M. Di Lorenzo

So the two spacecraft still have to prove they can hibernate and eventually emerge intact from the unforgiving lunar night.

Just prior to going to sleep, the 140 kg Yutu rover flexed its robotic arm and Chinese space engineers at BACC completed an initial assessment testing its joints and control mechanisms.

The short robotic arm appears similar in form and function to the one on NASA’s famous Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.

It is equipped with an alpha particle X-ray instrument (APXS) – on the terminus – to determine the composition of lunar rocks and soil.

Yutu flexes robotic arm with APXS spectrometer towards rock in this screen shot from a  CCTV video animation. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot by R. Mackelenbergh/K. Kremer/M. Di Lorenzo
Yutu flexes robotic arm with APXS spectrometer towards rock in this screen shot from a CCTV video animation. Credit: CNSA/CCTV/screenshot by R. Mackelenbergh/K. Kremer/M. Di Lorenzo

The robotic pair of spacecraft safely soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14 at Mare Imbrium, nearby the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region. It is located in the upper left portion of the moon as seen from Earth. You can easily see the landing site with your own eyes.

Barely seven hours after the history making touchdown, ‘Yutu’ was painstakingly lowered from its perch atop the lander and then successfully drove all six wheels onto the moon’s surface on Dec. 15.

Yutu left noticeable tracks behind, several centimeters deep, as the wheels cut into the loose lunar regolith.

The Chang’e-3 lander and rover then conducted an initial survey of the stark lunar landing site, pockmarked with craters and small boulders.

They took an initial pair of portraits of one another. Read my earlier report – here.

The four legged lunar lander also snapped the missions first panoramic view of the touchdown spot at Mare Imbrium using three panoramic cameras (Pancams) pointing in different directions. Read my earlier report – here.

See the eerie panoramic view of the landing site showing Yutu’s first moments on the alien lunar surface in our screenshot mosaic above – and here.

See the dramatic video with an astronauts eye view of the lunar descent and touchdown in my prior story – here.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’, was then directed to travel in a semicircular path around the right side of the lander and is heading to the south.

Its currently napping about 40 meters to the south.

China’s 1st Moon rover ‘Yutu’ embarks on thrilling adventure marking humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades. Yutu portrait taken by the Chang’e-3 lander.  Credit: CNSA/CCTV
China’s 1st Moon rover ‘Yutu’ embarks on thrilling adventure marking humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades. Yutu portrait taken by the Chang’e-3 lander. Credit: CNSA/CCTV

‘Jade Rabbit’ will resume the lunar trek upon awakening, along with the stationary lander, from their extended two week slumber around Jan 12, 2014.

Yutu will depart the Chang’e-3 landing zone forever and rove the moon’s surface for investigations expected to last at least 3 months – and perhaps longer depending on its robustness in the unforgiving space environment.

The robotic rover will use its suite of four science instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts, perhaps a decade from now.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) imaged the Chang’e-3 landing site in western Mare Imbrium around Christmas time on 24 and 25 December with its high resolution LROC camera and we’ll feature them here when available.

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.

The best is surely yet to come!

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.

Ken Kremer

Yutu Moon Rover Sets Sail for Breathtaking New Adventures

China’s 1st Moon rover ‘Yutu’ embarks on thrilling adventure marking humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades. Yutu portrait taken by the Chang’e-3 lander. Credit: CNSA/CCTV
See below Yutu’s departing portrait of Chang’e-3 lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag
Story updated[/caption]

China’s now famous ‘Yutu’ moon rover has set sail for what promises to be breathtaking new adventures on Earth’s nearest neighbor, after completing a final joint portrait session with the Chang’e-3 lander that safely deposited her on the lunar surface only a week ago.

Yutu’s upcoming journey marks humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 sample return vehicle visited. America’s last lunar landing mission with the Apollo 17 astronauts departed 41 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972.

The Chang’e-3 mothership and Yutu rover have resumed full operations after awakening from a sort of self induced slumber following commands from Mission Control back in Beijing.

The lander and rover finished up their 5th and final dual picture taking session – in living lunar color – on Sunday, Dec. 22, according to CCTV, China’s state run broadcast network.

“Ten pictures have been taken at five spots so far, and all of them are better than we expected,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer of the China Lunar Probe Program, to CCTV.

See the newly released portraits from photo session 5 – above and below.

The rover and lander have taken photos of each other for the fifth and final time. The back side of Chang'e 3 lander as seen by rover Yutu with Chinese national flag at left imaged for the first time.  Credit: CNSA/CCTV
The rover and lander have taken photos of each other for the fifth and final time. The back side of Chang’e 3 lander as seen by rover Yutu with Chinese national flag at left imaged for the first time.
Credit: CNSA/CCTV

After arriving on the moon, Yutu and the lander took an initial pair of portraits of one another. Read my earlier report – here.

Yutu was then directed to travel in a semicircular path around the lander and to the south, making tracks several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith.

But within two days of the historic Dec. 14 touchdown, the two spacecraft took a four-day break that lasted from Dec. 16 to Dec. 20, during which China’s space engineers shut down their subsystems, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).

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
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

The vehicles took a ‘nap” to deal with direct solar radiation that significantly raised their temperatures. Yutu’s sunny side exceeded 100 degrees centigrade while the shaded side was simultaneously below zero, reported SASTIND.

“The break had been planned to last until Dec. 23, but the scientists decided to restart Yutu now for more research time, based on the recent observations and telemetry parameters,” said Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for the Chinese lunar program, according to China’s Xinhua state news agency.

Both robots then snapped additional photos of one another during the traverse from each of five specific and preplanned locations.

See accompanying traverse map below – written in Chinese.

Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang'e 3 imagery from space and ground.  Credit: CNSA/BACC
Path of Yutu rover from Dec. 14 landing to Dec. 21. Landscape textured with Chang’e 3 imagery from space and ground. Credit: CNSA/BACC

These images taken by Yutu were designed to show the 1200 kg Chang’e-3 lander from the front, side and back sides as it drove around the right side – for better illumination – at a distance of about 10 meters.

The final image of the Chang’e-3 lander taken by Yutu also captured China’s national flag emblazoned on the lander for the first time, since this was the first time it was in view of the rover’s camera eyes.

See the accompanying traverse graphic here – written in Chinese.

Yutu and the Chang'e 3 lander are scheduled to take photos of each other soon from locations outlined in this artists concept.  Credit: China Space
Yutu and the Chang’e 3 lander were scheduled to take photos of each other from locations outlined in this artists concept. Credit: China Space

Having fulfilled the last of their joint tasks, the two spacecraft can therefore each begin their own lunar exploration missions, working independently of one another exactly as planned from the outset of China’s inaugural moon landing feat.

Yutu will depart the Chang’e-3 landing zone forever and begin its own lunar trek that’s expected to last at least 3 months – and perhaps longer if it’s delicate electronic components survive the moon’s utterly harsh and unforgiving space environment.

“They will begin to conduct scientific explorations of the geography and geomorphology of the landing spot and nearby areas, and materials like minerals and elements there. We will also explore areas 30 meters and 100 meters beneath the lunar soil. The exploration will continue longer than we planned, because all the instruments and equipments are working very well,” noted Wu Weiren.

The robotic pair of spacecraft safely soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14 at Mare Imbrium, nearby the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region.

Barely seven hours after the history making touchdown, ‘Yutu’ was painstakingly lowered from its perch atop the lander and then successfully drove all six wheels onto the moon’s surface on Dec. 15.

The Chang’e-3 mothership captured a panoramic view of the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft after ‘Yutu’ drove some 9 meters away from the lander.

See the eerie panoramic view of the landing site showing Yutu’s first moments on the alien lunar surface in my prior story – here.

See the dramatic video with an astronauts eye view of the lunar descent and touchdown in my prior story – here.

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
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

The 120 kg Yutu rover is almost the size of a golf cart. It measures about 1.5 m x 1 m on its sides and stands about 1.5 m (nearly 5 feet) tall – virtually human height.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ will use its suite of four science instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts, perhaps a decade from now.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.

Ken KremerLanding site of Chinese lunar probe Chang'e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. [/caption]

China’s 1st Lunar Lander snaps 1st landing site Panorama

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.

Chinese space officials have now released the dramatic surface imagery captured by the Chang’e-3 mothership on Dec. 15, via a video news report on CCTV.

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.

The individual images were taken by three cameras positioned around the robotic lander.

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
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

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.

After making its soft landing, the Chang’e-3’s lander took pictures around its landing spot. Credit: CCTV
After making its soft landing, the Chang’e-3’s lander took pictures around its landing spot. Credit: CCTV

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.

Wheel tracks from Yutu moon rover. Credit: CNSA/CCTV
Wheel tracks from Yutu moon rover. Credit: CNSA/CCTV

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:

This screen shot from one photo of many of the moons surface snapped by the on-board descent imaging camera of the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013 shows the probe approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge and approximate location of the landing site. This marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body. Credit: Xinhua/CCTV/post processing and annotations Marco Di Lorenzo /Ken Kremer.  See the entire stunning Chang’e-3 lunar landing video – below
This screen shot from one photo of many of the moons surface snapped by the on-board descent imaging camera of the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013 shows the probe approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge and approximate location of the landing site. This marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body. Credit: Xinhua/CCTV/post processing and annotations Marco Di Lorenzo /Ken Kremer.

The 140 kilogram Yutu rover then turned around so that the lander and rover could obtain their first portraits of one another.

“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 KremerLanding site of Chinese lunar probe Chang'e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. [/caption]

Stunning Chang’e-3 Lunar Landing Video gives Astronauts Eye View of Descent & Touchdown

This screen shot from one photo of many of the moons surface snapped by the on-board descent imaging camera of the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013 shows the probe approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge and approximate location of the landing site in Mare Imbrium. This marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body. Image and video rotated 180 degrees.
Credit: Xinhua/CCTV/post processing and annotations Marco Di Lorenzo /Ken Kremer
See the entire stunning Chang’e-3 lunar landing video – below
Story updated

[/caption]

China accomplished a major technological and scientific feat when the country’s ambitious Chang’e-3 robotic spacecraft successfully soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14 – on their very first attempt to conduct a landing on an extraterrestrial body.

Along the way the descent imaging camera aboard the Chang’e-3 lander was furiously snapping photos during the last minutes of the computer guided descent.

For a firsthand look at all the thrilling action, be sure to check out the stunning landing video, below, which gives an astronauts eye view of the dramatic descent and touchdown by China’s inaugural lunar lander and rover mission.

The video was produced from a compilation of descent camera imagery. The version here has been rotated 180 degrees – so you don’t have to flip yourself over to enjoy the ride.

And it truly harkens back to the glory days of NASA’s manned Apollo lunar landing program of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Photo taken on Dec. 14, 2013 shows a picture of the moon surface taken by the on-board camera of lunar probe Chang'e-3 on the screen of the Beijing Aer Control Center in Beijing.   This marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.  Credit: Xinhua/CCTV
This is one photo from many of the moons surface snapped by the on-board descent imaging camera of the Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. This marks the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body. Credit: Xinhua/CCTV
See the entire stunning Chang’e-3 lunar landing video – herein

The dramatic Chang’e-3 soft landing took place at Mare Imbrium at 8:11 am EST, 9:11 p.m. Beijing local time, 1311 GMT, which is to the east of the announced landing site on the lava filled plains of the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region.

The precise landing coordinates were 44.1260°N and 19.5014°W -located below the Montes Recti mountain ridge and about 40 kilometers south of the 6 kilometer diameter crater known as Laplace F – see image below.

Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang'e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013.
Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013.

The video begins as Chang’e-3 is approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge which is about 90 km in length. Its peaks rise to nearly 2 km.

Chang’e-3 carried out the rocket powered descent to the Moon’s surface by firing the landing thrusters starting at the altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing targeted to a preselected area in Mare Imbrium.

The vehicles thrusters then fire to pivot the lander towards the surface at about the 2:40 minute mark when it’s at an altitude of roughly 3 km.

Infographic shows the process of the soft-landing on the moon of China's lunar probe Chang'e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. Credit: SASTIND/Xinhua /Zheng Yue
Infographic shows the process of the soft-landing on the moon of China’s lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. Credit: SASTIND/Xinhua /Zheng Yue

The powered descent was autonomous and preprogrammed and controlled by the probe itself, not by mission controllers on Earth stationed at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) in Beijing.

Altogether it took about 12 minutes using the variable thrust engine which can continuously vary its thrust power between 1,500 to 7,500 newtons.

The variable thrust engine enabled Chang’e-3 to reduce its deceleration as it approached the moons rugged surface.

Photo taken on Dec. 14, 2013 shows the landing spot of lunar probe Chang'e-3  indicated on the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. Credit: Xinhua/Li
Photo taken on Dec. 14, 2013 shows the landing spot of lunar probe Chang’e-3 indicated on the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. Credit: Xinhua/Li

The 1200 kg lander was equipped with unprecedented terrain recognition equipment and software to hover above the landing site and confirm it was safe before proceeding.

This enabled the craft to avoid hazardous rock and boulder fields as well as craters in the pockmarked terrain that could spell catastrophe even in the final seconds before touchdown, if the vehicle were to land directly on top of them.

The descent engine continued firing to lower the lander until it was hovering some 100 meters above the lunar surface – at about the 5:10 minute mark.

Chang'e-3 hovered 100m high for 20 seconds before committing to land. This allows the on-board computer to make sure it doesn't land in a crater or an uneven place.  Credit: China Space
Chang’e-3 hovered 100m high for 20 seconds before committing to land. This allows the on-board computer to make sure it doesn’t land in a crater or an uneven place. Credit: China Space

After hovering for about 20 seconds and determining it was safe to proceed, the lander descended further to about 3 meters. The engine then cut off and the lander free fell the remaining distance. The impact was cushioned by shock absorbers.

There is a noticeable dust cloud visible on impact as the Chang’e-3 mothership touched down atop the plains of Mare Imbrium.

Chang'e-3 lander imaged by the rover Yutu on the moon on Dec. 15, 2013.  Note landing ramp at bottom. Credit: CCTV
Chang’e-3 lander imaged by the rover Yutu on the moon on Dec. 15, 2013. Note landing ramp at bottom. Credit: CCTV

Barely 7 hours later, China’s first ever lunar rover ‘Yutu’ rolled majestically down a pair of ramps and onto the Moon’s soil on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 4:35 a.m. Beijing local time.

The six wheeled ‘Yutu’, or Jade Rabbit, rover drove straight off the ramps and sped right into the history books as it left a noticeably deep pair of tire tracks behind in the loose lunar dirt.

China's first lunar rover separates from Chang'e-3 moon lander early Dec. 15, 2013. Screenshot taken from the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing. Credit: Xinhua/post processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
China’s first lunar rover separates from Chang’e-3 moon lander early Dec. 15, 2013. Screenshot taken from the screen of the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing. Credit: Xinhua/post processing by Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The stunning feat was broadcast on China’s state run 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.

It’s been nearly four decades since the prior lunar landing was accomplished by the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 sample return spacecraft back in 1976.

America’s last visit to the Moon’s surface occurred with the manned Apollo 17 landing mission – crewed by astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt , who coincidentally ascended from the lunar soil on Dec. 14, 1972 – exactly 41 years ago.

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 Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.

Ken KremerMoon map showing landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang'e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013 below Montes Recti in Mare Imbrium beside Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows .  Credit: China Space Moon map showing landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013 below Montes Recti in Mare Imbrium beside Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows . Credit: China Space[/caption]

Image shows the trajectory of the lunar probe Chang'e-3 approaching the landing site  on Dec. 14.
Image shows the trajectory of the lunar probe Chang’e-3 approaching the landing site on Dec. 14.

Smack! A New Crater Appears on the Moon/ Yutu Rover Update

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, or in this instance, a new hole in the moon. NASA’s Lunar Impact Monitoring Program recorded the brightest meteoroid impact ever in its 8-year history on March 17 this year. The flash of light, as luminous as a 4th magnitude star and lasting about one second, was caught on video striking the moon in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium) not far from the prominent crater Copernicus. Some time after the event, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) swept in for a closer look and spied a brand new impact crater. 

Since 2005 the program has detected over 300 flashes which are presumed to be from meteoroid impacts.

Bright impact flash made by a foot-wide rock that struck the moon on March 17, 2013. The moon was a crescent in the evening sky at the time. The impact occurred in the dark, earthlit part of the moon away from the sun-lit crescent. Click photo to see video about the event. Credit: NASA
Bright impact flash made by a foot-wide rock that struck the moon on March 17, 2013. The moon was a crescent in the evening sky at the time. The impact occurred in the dark, earthlit part of the moon away from the sun-lit crescent. Click photo to see video about the event. Credit: NASA

Based on the flash brightness and duration of the St. Pat’s Day smack, the space boulder measured between one to 1.5 feet long (0.3-0.4 meters) and struck the moon traveling at 56,000 mph with a force of 5 tons of TNT.  Scientists predicted then that the impact could produce a crater up to 65 feet (20 meters) in diameter.

Left: Fresh material brought to the surface makes the new 59-foot-wide crater look like it was spray painted white. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University. Right: The meteoroid strike occurred near the prominent crater Copernicus in Mare Imbrium. Credit: Bob King
Left: Fresh material brought to the surface makes the new 59-foot-wide crater look like it was spray painted white. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University. Right: The meteoroid strike occurred near the familiar crater Copernicus in the Sea of Rains (Mare Imbrium). Credit: Bob King

Well, guess what? When LRO dropped by for a look and compared images taken of the flash site before and after March 17. Staring it in the face was a brand new crater 59 feet across (18 meters). Wow! Just look at how reflective the crater and its rays of ejecta appear. That’s all unweathered, fresh dust and rock excavated from beneath the surface courtesy of 5 tons of extraterrestrial TNT. While impressive from LRO’s 31-mile altitude, the “St. Pat” crater is unfortunately invisible in even the largest telescopes from Earth.

Over time, cosmic rays, solar irradiation and micrometeoroids darken and redden the lunar soil. Millions of years from now, the once brilliant crater will blend into the moonscape. Can you imagine how bright larger craters like Tycho and Copernicus must have looked once upon a time?

Now it's the Chinese Yutu rover's turn to take a photo of the lander. Credit: CCTV
Now it’s the Chinese Yutu rover’s turn to take a photo of the lander. Credit: CCTV

The March 17 impact wasn’t the first new crater seen by LRO, but it does appear to be one of the largest. The LRO camera team has been systematically searching its archive of before and after images for many more lunar landscape changes. Some of those results – including these photos – were presented at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting last week; more new craters will be announced in the near future.

Left: The lander's new location in northern Mare Imbrium. Right: LRO scientists have so far nailed down the lander's  position somewhere inside the red box on the rim of a small crater with exposed rocky outcrops. Picture is about 1,750 feet side to side. Credit: NASA
Left: The lander’s new location in northern Mare Imbrium. Right: LRO scientists have so far nailed down the lander’s position somewhere inside the red box on the rim of a small crater with exposed rocky outcrops. Picture is about 1,750 feet side to side. Credit: NASA

While we’re on the topic of flyover discoveries, NASA will photograph the Chinese Yutu rover and lander when LRO orbits over western Mare Imbrium on Dec. 24 and 25. As it turns out, the lander didn’t land in Sinus Iridium as reported earlier but in nearby Mare Imbrium, a good distance east of the original site but still within the official “landing box”.

Fortuitously, this location turns out to be a great spot to examine young lavas not sampled during the Apollo missions. All the Apollo rocks ranged in age from 3.1 to 3.8 billion years old. Based on crater counts and the flow’s relatively fresh appearance, Yutu sits at the northern edge of a lava sheet dated at between 1 and 2.5 billion years. In lunar years, that’s fresh!

Flow lobes in the lavas of Mare Imbrium. Chang’e 3 landed at the extreme northern end of this sequence of lavas, which are very young in lunar terms. Credit: NASA / Apollo 15
Flow lobes in the lavas of Mare Imbrium. Chang’e 3 landed at the extreme northern end of this sequence of lavas, which are very young in lunar terms. Credit: NASA / Apollo 15

Younger flows experience less erosion, so the lunar bedrock isn’t buried beneath as much rock as at the Apollo sites. Where Yutu sits, the lunar soil or regolith goes down some 6-7 feet (2 meters) instead of 10-26 feet (3-8 meters) at other landing sites. That means easier excavation of much sought after lunar bedrock. We may even be seeing blocks of bedrock littered about the ~35 foot wide crater (10 meters) in one of the first photos sent back to Earth by the Chinese lander.

The boulders strewn about the crater rim at the Chang'e 3 landing site might be samples of lunar bedrock. Credit: CCTV
The boulders strewn about the crater rim at the Chang’e 3 landing site might be samples of lunar bedrock. Credit: CCTV

For a great analysis of the Chang’e 3 landing site, I recommend reading  A New Site to Explore on the Moon by lunar geologist Paul D. Spudis