China Plans Lunar Far Side Landing by 2020

China plans lunar far side landing with hardware similar to Chang’e-3 lander
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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.
See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: [/caption]

China aims to land a science probe and research rover on the far side of the Moon by 2020, say Chinese officials.

Chinese scientists plan to carry out the highly complex lunar landing mission using a near identical back up to the nations highly successful Chang’e-3 rover and lander – which touched down in December 2013.

If successful, China would become the first country to accomplish the history making task of a Lunar far side landing.

“The mission will be carried out by Chang’e-4, a backup probe for Chang’e-3, and is slated to be launched before 2020,” said Zou Yongliao from the moon exploration department under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to a recent report in China’s government owned Xinhua news agency.

Zou made the remarks at a deep-space exploration forum in China.

“China will be the first to complete the task if it is successful,” said Zou.

Chinese space scientists have been evaluating how best to utilize the Chang’e-4 hardware, built as a backup to Chang’e-3, ever since China’s successful inaugural soft landing on the Moon was accomplished by Chang’e-3 in December 2013 with the mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu lunar rover.

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 – kenkremer.com.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html

Plans to launch Chang’e-4 in 2016 were eventually abandoned in favor of further evaluation.

After completing an intense 12 month study ordered by China’s government, space officials confirmed that the lunar far side landing was the wisest use of the existing space hardware.

Chang’e-4 will be modified with a larger payload.

“Chang’e-4 is very similar to Chang’e-3 in structure but can handle more payload,” said Zou.

“It will be used to study the geological conditions of the dark side of the moon.”

The moon is tidally locked with the Earth so that only one side is ever visible. But that unique characteristic makes it highly attractive to scientists who have wanted to set up telescopes and other research experiments on the lunar far side for decades.

“The far side of the moon has a clean electromagnetic environment, which provides an ideal field for low frequency radio study. If we can can place a frequency spectrograph on the far side, we can fill a void,” Zou elaborated.

China will also have to launch another lunar orbiter in the next few years to enable the Chang’e-4 lander and rover to transmit signals and science data back to Chinese mission control on Earth.

In the meantime, China already announced its desire to forge ahead with an ambitious mission to return samples from the lunar surface later this decade.

The Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) plans to launch the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission in 2017 as the third step in the nations far reaching lunar exploration program.

“Chang’e-5 will achieve several breakthroughs, including automatic sampling, ascending from the moon without a launch site and an unmanned docking 400,000 kilometers above the lunar surface,” said Li Chunlai, one of the main designers of the lunar probe ground application system, accoding to Xinhua.

The first step involved a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 which launched in 2007 and 2010.

The second step involved the hugely successful Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu moon rover which safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) on Dec. 14, 2013 – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landing on an extraterrestrial body in history, and chronicled extensively in my reporting here at Universe Today.

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 – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html

See above and herein our time-lapse photo mosaics showing China’s Yutu rover dramatically trundling across the Moon’s stark gray terrain in the first weeks after she rolled all six wheels onto the desolate lunar plains.

The complete time-lapse mosaic shows Yutu at three different positions trekking around the landing site, and gives a real sense of how it maneuvered around on its 1st Lunar Day.

The 360 degree panoramic mosaic was created by the imaging team of scientists Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from images captured by the color camera aboard the Chang’e-3 lander and was featured at Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb. 3, 2014.

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

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
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

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 Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Walk Beside China’s Moon Rover In Best Chang’e-3 Mission Pictures Ever

It’s been just over a year since China wowed the world with the first soft Moon landing in almost 40 years. The Chang’e-3 robotic lander made it all the way to Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) on Dec. 14, 2013, quickly deploying the Yutu rover for a spin.

Mission updates have been sparse in recent months, but the Planetary Society and a forum on Unmanned Spaceflight recently pointed out a new image archive. These pictures are so high-definition, it’s almost as good as being on the Moon beside the rover.

While some of the images are familiar to followers of the mission, what makes the image archive stick out is how high-definition many of them are.

China's Yutu rover scoots around on the Moon in this undated photo. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
China’s Yutu rover scoots around on the Moon in this undated photo. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

A few great shots have been sent back from the surface, including a set from January that was combined into a 360-degree panorama by Marco Di Lorenzo and Universe Today’s Ken Kremer. But this archive contains a wealth of them.

The lander/rover team made it to the surface last year equipped with high-definition video cameras, prepared to catch some of the first new views of the lunar surface from close up since the Apollo robotic/human and Soviet robotic moon landing era of the 1960s and 1970s.

While Chinese officials reportedly said the rover would last three months and the lander a year, difficulties quickly cropped up.

Chang'e 3 viewed from the Yutu lunar rover. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
Chang’e-3 viewed from the Yutu lunar rover. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Shortly before Yutu entered a planned hibernation for its second lunar night (about two weeks on Earth) in January, a technical problem was reported that was later identified as a problem with its solar panel.

A “control circuit malfunction”, according to the Xinhua news agency, left the rover at risk of not waking up after that second hibernation. The mast it controlled was supposed to lower and protect some of the rover’s sensitive electronics. Yutu survived the night, but was left unable to move through the third lunar day.

According to the Planetary Society (based on Chinese news media reports), there are no current status updates for Yutu, but Chang’e-3 is still working a year after the landing.

The Yutu rover leaves the Chang'e 3 lunar lander in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
The Yutu rover leaves the Chang’e-3 lunar lander in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
The Chang'e 3 mission's view of lunar rocks. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences
The Chang’e-3 mission’s view of lunar rocks. The mission began in December 2013. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

Chinese Unmanned Lunar Orbiter Returns Home Safely, Paves Path for Ambitious Lunar Sample Return

A Chinese robotic probe has just successfully completed the first round trip to the Moon and back home in four decades that paves the path for China’s next great space leap forward – an ambitious mission to return samples from the lunar surface later this decade.

On Saturday, Nov. 1, the unmanned Chang’e-5 T1 test capsule nicknamed “Xiaofei” concluded an eight-day test flight around the Moon by safely landing in Siziwang Banner of China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to a report by the official Xinhua News agency.

China thus become only the third nation to demonstrate lunar return technology following the former Soviet Union and the United States. The Soviet Union conducted the last lunar return mission in the 1970s.

Search teams with helicopters recovered the “Xiaofei” orbiter intact at the planned landing zone about 500 kilometers away from Beijing.

The Chang’e-5 T1 test mission is an unequivocally clear demonstration of China’s mounting technological prowess.

Researchers retrieve the return capsule of China's unmanned lunar orbiter in the central region of north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Nov. 1, 2014. Return capsule of China's test lunar orbiter landed successfully early Saturday morning in north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. Credit: Xinhua/Ren Junchuan
Researchers retrieve the return capsule of China’s unmanned lunar orbiter in the central region of north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Nov. 1, 2014. Return capsule of China’s test lunar orbiter landed successfully early Saturday morning in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, according to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center. Credit: Xinhua/Ren Junchuan

Chang’e-5 T1 served as a technology testbed and precursor flight for China’s planned Chang’e-5 probe, a future mission aimed at conducting China’s first lunar sample return mission in 2017.

“Chang’e-5 is expected to collect a 2-kg sample from two meters under the Moon’s surface and bring it home,” according to Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program.

The ability to gather and analyze pristine new soil and rocks samples from the Moon’s surface would be a boon for scientists worldwide seeking to unlock the mysteries of the solar system’s origin and evolution.

“Xiaofei” was launched on Oct. 23 EDT/Oct. 24 BJT atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket at 2 AM Beijing local time (BJT), 1800 GMT, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province.

Liftoff of the unmanned Chang'e-5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT).  Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing
Liftoff of the unmanned Chang’e-5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT). Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing

It was boosted on an 840,000 kilometer, eight-day mission trajectory that swung halfway around the far side of the Moon and back. It did not enter lunar orbit.

During its path finding journey, “Xiaofei” captured incredible imagery of the Moon and Earth, eerie globes hanging together in the ocean of space.

A unique view of the Moon and distant Earth from China's Chang’e-5 T1 lunar test flight. Image via CCTV News and UnmannedSpaceflight.com.
A unique view of the Moon and distant Earth from China’s Chang’e-5 T1 lunar test flight. Image via CCTV News and UnmannedSpaceflight.com.

The probe was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The service module is based on China’s earlier Chang’e-2 spacecraft.

On its return, the probe hit the Earth’s atmosphere at around 6:13 a.m. Saturday morning at about 11.2 kilometers per second for reentry and a parachute assisted soft landing in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The goal was to test and validate guidance, navigation and control, heat shield, and trajectory design technologies required for the sample return capsule’s safe re-entry following a lunar touchdown mission and collection of soil and rock samples from the lunar surface – planned for the Chang’e-5 mission.

“To help it slow down, the craft is designed to ‘bounce’ off the edge of the atmosphere, before re-entering again. The process has been compared to a stone skipping across water, and can shorten the ‘braking distance’ for the orbiter,” according to Zhou Jianliang, chief engineer with the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center.

“Really, this is like braking a car,” said Zhou, “The faster you drive, the longer the distance you need to bring the car to a complete stop.”

China hopes to launch the Chang’e-5 mission in 2017 as the third step in the nation’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

The first step involved a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 which launched in 2007 and 2010.

The second step involved the hugely successful Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu moon rover which safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) on Dec. 14, 2013 – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landing on an extraterrestrial body in history, and chronicled extensively in my reporting here.

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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

See below our time-lapse photo mosaic showing China’s Yutu rover dramatically trundling across the Moon’s stark gray terrain in the first weeks after she rolled all six wheels onto the desolate lunar plains.

The complete time-lapse mosaic shows Yutu at three different positions trekking around the landing site, and gives a real sense of how it maneuvered around on its 1st Lunar Day.

The 360 degree panoramic mosaic was created by the imaging team of scientists Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from images captured by the color camera aboard Chang’e-3 lander and was featured at Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb. 3, 2014.

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.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

China’s space officials are currently evaluating whether they will proceed with launching the Chang’e-4 lunar landing mission in 2016, which was a backup probe to Chang’e-3. Although Yutu was initially successful, it encountered difficulties about a month after rolling onto the surface which prevented it from roving across the surface and accomplishing some of its science objectives.

China is pushing forward with plans to start building a manned space station later this decade and considering whether to launch astronauts to the Moon by the mid 2020s or later.

Meanwhile, as American lunar and planetary missions sit still on the drawing board thanks to visionless US politicians, China continues to forge ahead with no end in sight.

Technicians at work testing the  Chang'e-5T1 return capsule. Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation/ Spacechina.com
Technicians at work testing the Chang’e-5T1 return capsule. Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation/ Spacechina.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

China Launches Moon Mission to Test Key Lunar Sample Return Technologies

China launched a robotic mission to the Moon today (Oct. 23 EDT/Oct. 24 BJT) that will test a slew of key technologies required for safely delivering samples gathered from the Moon’s surface and returning them to Earth later this decade for analysis by researchers.

Today’s unmanned launch of what has been dubbed “Chang’e-5 T1” is a technology testbed serving as a precursor for China’s planned Chang’e-5 probe, a future mission aimed at conducting China’s first lunar sample return mission in 2017.

“Chang’e-5 T1” was successfully launched atop an advanced Long March-3C rocket at 2 AM Beijing local time (BJT), 1800 GMT, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province.

“The test spacecraft separated from its carrier rocket and entered the expected the orbit shortly after the liftoff, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND),” says the official Xinhua news agency. The launch was not broadcast live.

The return capsule was placed on a lunar transfer trajectory that will take it on a simple eight day roundtrip flight around the Moon and journey back to Earth. The orbit had a perigee of 209 kilometers and will reach an apogee of some 380,000 kilometers and swing halfway around the Moon, but not enter lunar orbit.

Ignition and liftoff of the unmanned Chang'e 5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT).  Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing
Ignition and liftoff of the unmanned Chang’e-5 T1 lunar spacecraft atop a Long March-3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Oct. 24, 2014, BJT (Oct. 23 EDT). Credit: Xinhua/Jiang Hongjing

The probe was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The service module is based on China’s earlier Chang’e-2 spacecraft and the capsule somewhat resembles a mini-Shenzhou.

On its return, the probe will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at about 11.2 kilometers per second for reentry and a parachute assisted landing. The capsule is targeted to soft land in north China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The goal is to test and validate guidance, navigation and control, heat shield, and trajectory design technologies required for the sample return capsule’s safe re-entry following a lunar touchdown mission and collection of soil and rock samples from the lunar surface – planned for the Chang’e-5 mission.

Technicians at work testing the  Chang'e-5T1 return capsule. Credit: Spacechina.com
Technicians at work testing the Chang’e-5 T1 return capsule. Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation/ Spacechina.com

China hopes to launch the Chang’e-5 mission in 2017 as the third step in the nation’s ambitious lunar exploration program.

The first step involved a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 which launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

The second step involved the hugely successful Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu moon rover which safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) on Dec. 14, 2013 – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landing on an extraterrestrial body in history, and chronicled extensively in my reporting here.

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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

See below our time-lapse photo mosaic showing China’s Yutu rover dramatically trundling across the Moon’s stark gray terrain in the first weeks after she rolled all six wheels onto the desolate lunar plains.

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.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

The complete time-lapse mosaic shows Yutu at three different positions trekking around the landing site, and gives a real sense of how it maneuvered around on its 1st Lunar Day.

The 360 degree panoramic mosaic was created by the imaging team of scientists Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from images captured by the color camera aboard Chang’e-3 lander and was featured at Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb. 3, 2014.

Although Yutu was initially very successful, it encountered difficulties about six weeks after rolling onto the surface which prevented it from roving further across the surface and accomplishing some of its science objectives.

China’s space officials are currently evaluating whether they will proceed with launching the Chang’e-4 lunar landing mission in 2016, which was a backup probe to Chang’e-3.

China is pushing forward with plans to start building a manned space station later this decade and considering whether to launch astronauts to the Moon by the mid 2020s or later.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations:

Oct 26/27: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA

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 – kenkremer.com.
See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm[/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 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 – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

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
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

China’s Yutu Moon Rover Unable to Properly Maneuver Solar Panels

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 the 360-degree panorama.
Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.
See our complete 5 position Yutu timelapse pano herein and 3 position pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
Story updated[/caption]

The serious technical malfunction afflicting the life and continued operations of China’s Yutu moon rover since the start of its second Lunar Night time hibernation in late January 2014 has been identified as an inability to properly maneuver the life giving solar panels, according to a top Chinese space official.

Yutu suffered a control circuit malfunction in its driving unit,” according to a newly published report on March 1 by the state owned Xinhua news agency.

“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.

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.”

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.

The high gain communications antenna and the imaging cameras are attached to the mast.

They must be folded down into a warmed electronics box to shield them from the damaging effects of the Moon’s nightfall when temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

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 – kenkremer.com.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

The solar panels also generate power during each Lunar day to keep the robot alive and conduct its mission of scientific exploration roving across the lunar terrain.

The rover and Chang’e-3 stationary lander must power down and sleep during each lunar night since there is no sunlight available to generate power and no communications are possible with Earth.

The panel driving unit also helps maneuver the panels into position to efficiently point to the sun to maximize the electrical output.

“The driving unit malfunction prevented Yutu to do those actions” said Ye.

Each lunar day and night lasts for alternating periods of 14 Earth days.

“This means Yutu had to go through the lunar night in extremely low temperatures.”

Apparently the mast was not retracted and remained vertical during the lunar nights 2 and 3.

And the camera somehow survived the harsh temperature decline and managed to continue operating since it snapped two images of the Chan’ge-3 lander during Lunar Day 3. See our two image mosaic – below.

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 – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

In addition to being chief scientist of the Chang’e-3 program Ye is also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top political advisory body.

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.

Barely seven hours after touchdown, the six wheeled moon buggy drove down a pair of ramps onto the desolate gray plains of the lunar surface at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) covered by volcanic material.

For a time in mid-February, mission scientists feared that Yutu would no longer function when because no signals were received until two days later than the planned “awakening” from Lunar Night 2 on Feb. 10.

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.   Note the landing ramp and rover tracks at left.  Credit: CNSA/SASTIND/Xinhua/Marco Di Lorenzo/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

Fortunately, Yutu did finally wake up some 48 hours late on Feb. 12 and function on Lunar Day 3.

And the team engaged in troubleshooting to try and identify and rectify the technical problems.

Since then, Chinese space engineers engaged in troubleshooting to try and identify and rectify the technical problems in a race against time to find a solution before the start of Lunar Night 3.

The 140 kilogram rover was unable to move during Lunar Day 3 due to the mechanical glitches.

“Yutu only carried out fixed point observations during its third lunar day.” according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), responsible for the mission.

However it did complete some limited scientific observations. And fortunately the ground penetrating radar, panoramic and infrared imaging equipment all functioned normally.

Yutu and the companion Chang’e-3 lander have again gone into sleep mode during Lunar Night 3 on Feb. 22 and Feb 23 respectively, local Beijing time.

But the issue with the control circuit malfunction in its driving unit remains unresolved and still threatens the outlook for Yutu’s future exploration.

See our new Chang’e-3/Yutu lunar panoramas by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo herein and at NASA APOD on Feb. 3, 2014.

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
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

Yutu is now nearing its planned 3 month long life expectancy on a moon roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

The 1200 kg stationary lander is functioning normally. It is as expected to return science data about the Moon and conduct telescopic observations of the Earth and celestial objects for at least one year.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ is named after the rabbit in Chinese mythology that lives on the Moon as a pet of the Moon goddess Chang’e.

“We all wish it would be able to wake up again,” said Ye according to CCTV, China’s state run broadcaster.

Ye will be reporting about Yutu and the Chang’e-3 mission at the annual session of the top advisory body, which opened today, Monday, March 3.

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, Curiosity, GPM, LADEE, Mars and more planetary and human spaceflight news. Learn more at Ken’s upcoming presentations at the NEAF convention on April 12/13.

Ken Kremer

Snow Moon 2014 showing where China’s Yutu rover lives and works on lunar surface, at upper left.  Photo: Mark Usciak.  Annotation: Ken Kremer
Snow Moon 2014 showing where China’s Yutu rover lives and works on lunar surface, at upper left. Photo: Mark Usciak. Annotation: Ken Kremer

Yutu Moon Rover Starts 3rd Night Time Hibernation But Technical Problems Persist

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 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 – kenkremer.com.
See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
Story updated[/caption]

The world famous and hugely popular ‘Yutu’ rover entered its 3rd Lunar night time hibernation period this weekend as planned, but serious technical troubles persist that are hampering science operations Chinese space managers confirmed.

“China’s lunar rover Yutu entered its third planned dormancy on Saturday, with the mechanical control issues that might cripple the vehicle still unresolved,” reports Xinhua, China’s official government news agency, in a mission status update newly released today (Feb. 23).

Yutu went to sleep on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 22, local Beijing time, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), responsible for the mission.

The companion Chang’e-3 lunar lander entered hibernation soon thereafter early today, Sunday, Feb 23.

See our new lunar panoramas by Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo herein and at NASA APOD on Feb. 3, 2014.

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 – kenkremer.com.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 – kenkremer.com. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

Yutu first encountered a serious technical malfunction a month ago on Jan. 25, when she suffered ‘a mechanical control anomoly’ just prior to entering hibernation for the duration of Lunar Night 2.

The abnormality occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface,” according to SASTIND.

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.   Note the landing ramp and rover tracks at left.  Credit: CNSA/SASTIND/Xinhua/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Chang’e-3 lander from Yutu moon rover
New 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. Note the landing ramp and rover tracks at left. Credit: CNSA/SASTIND/Xinhua/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Chinese space officials have not divulged the exact nature of the problems. And they have not released any details of the efforts to resolve the issues that “might cripple the vehicle.”

Since both Chinese Moon probes are solar powered, they must power down and enter a dormant mode during every two week long lunar night period when there is no sunlight to generate energy from their solar arrays. And no communications with Earth are possible.

The rover, nicknamed ‘Jade Rabbit’ remained stationary during the just concluded two week long lunar day time period, said SASTIND. It was unable to move due to the mechanical glitches.

“Yutu only carried out fixed point observations during its third lunar day.”

But it did complete some limited scientific observations. And fortunately the ground penetrating radar, panoramic and infrared imaging equipment are functioning normally.

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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano herein and at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

The six wheel robot’s future was placed in jeopardy after it suffered the “mechanical anomaly” in late January 2014 and then awoke later than the scheduled time on Feb. 10, at the start of its 3rd Lunar Day.

To the teams enormous relief, a signal was finally detected.

“Yutu has come back to life!” said Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesperson for China’s lunar probe program, according to a Feb. 12 news report by the state owned Xinhua news agency.

“Experts are still working to verify the causes of its mechanical control abnormality.”

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.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

Since then, Chinese space engineers sought to troubleshoot the technical problems and were in a race against time to find a solution before the start of Lunar Night 3 this weekend.

“Experts had feared that it might never function again, but Yutu “woke up” on Feb. 12, two days behind schedule,” reported Xinhua.

Each lunar day and night lasts for alternating periods of 14 Earth days.

During each long night, the Moon’s temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

Both solar powered probes must enter hibernation mode during each lunar night to conserve energy and protect their science instruments and control mechanisms, computers and electronics.

“Scientists are still trying to find a fix for the abnormalities,” said CCTV, China’s official state television network.

So Yutu is now sleeping with the problems unresolved and no one knows what the future holds.

Hopefully Jade Rabbit awakes again in about two weeks time to see the start of Lunar Day 4.

The Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu surface rover soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013 at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landings on an extraterrestrial body in history.

Snow Moon 2014 showing where China’s Yutu rover lives and works on lunar surface, at upper left.  Photo: Mark Usciak.  Annotation: Ken Kremer
Snow Moon 2014 showing where China’s Yutu rover lives and works on lunar surface, at upper left. Photo: Mark Usciak. Annotation: Ken Kremer

‘Jade Rabbit’ had departed the landing site forever, and was journeying southwards as the anomoly occurred – about six weeks into its planned 3 month long moon roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

The 140 kg Yutu robot is located some 100 m south of the lander.

The 1200 kg stationary lander is expected to return science data about the Moon and conduct telescopic observations of the Earth and celestial objects for at least one year.

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

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.

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.

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 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
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
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 Yutu Moon Rover Alive and Awake for 3rd Lunar Day of Exploration despite Malfunction

Yutu Lives!

The little ‘rabbit’ beloved worldwide has now phoned home and actually survived the perils of the long lunar night and is alive and awake to start a 3rd day of scientific exploration despite suffering a serious malfunction as it entered the latest hibernation period two weeks ago.

“Yutu has come back to life!” said Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesperson for China’s lunar probe program, according to a breaking news report by the state owned Xinhua news agency.

“Experts are still working to verify the causes of its mechanical control abnormality.”

The Chang’e-3 mothership lander and piggybacked Yutu surface rover soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013 at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) – marking China’s first successful spacecraft landings on an extraterrestrial body in history.

Yutu’s new lease on life also comes after Monday’s (Feb. 11) premature report of the robots demise by the state owned China News Service, reported here.

However, “Yutu failed to power-up Monday [Feb 11] and data about its current condition and repair progress is still being collected and analyzed,” Xinhua and CCTV (China state run television) reported.

This indicates that Yutu was in fact feared lost for some time by the mission team, until further efforts finally resulted in the detection of a signal from the spacecraft – and a welcome reversal of yesterdays news!

The robot “has now been restored to its normal signal reception function,” says Pei.

Side by side screenshot photos of the Chang'e-3 moon lander (L) and the Yutu moon rover during the mutual-photograph process, at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, on Dec. 15, 2013. The moon rover and the moon lander took photos of each other  marking the complete success of the Chang'e-3 lunar probe mission. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)
Side by side screenshot photos of the Chang’e-3 moon lander (L) and the Yutu moon rover during the mutual-photograph process, at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, on Dec. 15, 2013. The moon rover and the moon lander took photos of each other marking the complete success of the Chang’e-3 lunar probe mission. (Xinhua/Ding Lin)

Earlier today (Feb. 12) amateur radio operators at UHF-satcom reported detection of a signal from Yutu.

But much technical work remains ahead for the engineering and science teams to ascertain why it malfunctioned and whether the six wheeled rover can be restored to partial or full functionality.

As night fell on Jan. 25, the rover entered its second two week long period of dormancy just as the rover “experienced a mechanical control abnormality,” according to a report by China’s official government newspaper, The People’s Daily.

“Yutu went into sleep under an abnormal status,” Pei said.

“Experts were initially concerned that it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures 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.  See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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. See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

Each lunar day and night lasts for alternating periods of 14 Earth days.

During each long night, the Moon’s temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

Both solar powered probes must enter hibernation mode during each lunar night to conserve energy and protect their science instruments and control mechanisms, computers and electronics.

“The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive,” Pei stated.

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ is named after the rabbit in Chinese mythology that lives on the Moon as a pet of the Moon goddess Chang’e.

‘Jade Rabbit’ had departed the landing site forever, and was journeying southwards as the anomoly occurred – about six weeks into its planned 3 month long moon roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

The 140 kg Yutu robot is located some 100 m south of the lander.

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

Definitive word about the Chang’e-3 lander has not yet been announced. But it is expected to survive since no malfunctions have been reported. It has a 1 year design lifetime.

Xinhua stated that Chinese space officials will comment on the landers status soon.

The 1200 kg stationary lander is expected to return science data about the Moon and conduct telescopic observations of the Earth and celestial objects for at least one year.

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

The inaugural pair of probes could be the forerunners to a manned Chinese Moon landing mission a decade from now.

China’s current plans call for the Chang’e-4 Moon lander/rover to launch in 2016, perhaps with some upgrades and lessons learned from the ongoing mission.

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.

Ken Kremer

Time for Earth to bid China’s Yutu Moon Rover Farewell ?

Farewell Yutu – artistic impression of Earthrise over Yutu at lunar landing site. This composite timelapse photomosaic combines farewell view of China’s Yutu rover with Moon’s surface terrain at Mare Imbrium landing site and enlarged photo of Earth – all actual images taken by Chang’e-3 lander. Not a science image. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo – kenkremer.com
See complete Yutu timelapse panorama below and at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html
Story and Headline revised and updated[/caption]

Update: There might yet be hope for Yutu. Amateur radio operators at UHF-satcom reported detection of a signal from Yutu today. But no update has been reported on the China News Service website or other official state media. Yutu’s fate is unknown.]

Update 2: Yutu is alive. story and headline revised. Further details – here
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For a time, it seemed China’s maiden moon rover ‘Yutu’, beloved by millions worldwide, had been lost.

The apparently unfortunate and sad breaking news was just reported today in an ultra brief dispatch by the English language version of Chinadaily – with the headline “Loss of lunar rover.”

But the death notice by Chinese officials turned out to be premature when a signal was detected a day later.

It had been thought that Yutu froze to death due to a pre-hibernation mechanical malfunction and failed to wake up and communicate with China’s mission controllers in Beijing on Monday, Feb. 10, when daylight returned to the rovers Moon landing site at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) at the start of what would have been Lunar Day 3 for the mission.

“China’s first lunar rover, Yutu, could not be restored to full function on Monday [Feb. 10] as expected,” wrote the state owned Chinadaily.com, China News Service agency.

The cause of the pre-hibernation malfunction may perhaps be traced back to a buildup of abrasive lunar dust, but no one knows at this time.

Note: This story has been updated as further details emerged.

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 has touched the hearts of countless Earthlings since the history making landing on the desolate gray plains of the the Moon atop the Chang’e-3 lander two month ago on Dec. 14, 2013.

See our timelapse mosaic, artistic impression of Earthrise over Yutu – above – by the image processing team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo.

It combines real images of the Moon’s surface terrain with an intentionally enlarged photo of Earth – all snapped by the Chang’e-3 lander – as a homage to the mission.

See the complete timelapse mosaic herein and featured at NASA APOD on Feb 3, 2013.

Although definitive word about the Chang’e-3 lander has not yet been announced, it is expected to survive and has a 1 year design lifetime.

Potentially bad news about Yutu’s fate was not unexpected however, after Chinese space officials disclosed that the rover “experienced a mechanical control abnormality” two weeks ago, just as her 2nd lunar night was to begin, according to a report by China’s official government newspaper, The People’s Daily.

“Yutu experienced mechanical problems on Jan 25 and has been unable to function since then,” according to Chinadaily.com, China News service.

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
See our Yutu timelapse pano also at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html

Each lunar day and night lasts for alternating periods of 14 Earth days.

The six wheeled Yutu rover and Chang’e-3 mothership lander had just finished sleeping through the terribly frigid two week long lunar night since they entered their second hibernation period on Jan. 24th and 25th respectively, and Chinese space engineers had hoped to reawaken both probes in the past few days.

No communications are possible during the period of nighttime dormancy.

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 the 360-degree panorama. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo.   See our complete Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:  http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm
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 the 360-degree panorama, herein. Credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo. See our complete Yutu timelapse pano also at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014: http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.htm

Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ is named after the rabbit in Chinese mythology that lives on the Moon as a pet of the Moon goddess Chang’e.

The piggybacked pair of Chinese probes safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium near the Bay of Rainbows on Dec. 14, 2013.

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

Apparently one of Yutu’s solar panels did not fold back properly over the instrument laden mast after it was lowered to a horizontal position into a warmed electronics box where it is shielded and insulated from the extremely frigid lunar night time temperatures.

Dust accumulation on the rover and gears may possibly be to blame for the failure to retract, based on unofficial accounts.

China has not released any official or detailed information on the cause of the malfunction or recovery actions taken by Chinese space engineers.

Such a malfunction could spell doom for the fragile electronic and computer components in the unprotected mast mounted instruments and systems, including the color and navigation cameras and the high gain antenna.

During each 14 Earth-day long night, the Moon’s temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

‘Jade Rabbit’ had departed the landing site forever, and was journeying southwards as the incident occurred – about six weeks into its planned 3 month long moon roving expedition to investigate the moon’s surface composition and natural resources.

The 140 kg Yutu robot drove off a pair of ramps and onto the moon seven hours after the Dec. 14, 2013 touchdown.

The 1200 kg stationary lander is expected to return science data about the Moon and telescopic observations of the Earth and celestial objects for at least one year.

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

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
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

They were designed to conduct their science investigations and work independently of one another.

China can be proud of its magnificent space flight accomplishment.

Chang’e-3 was the first spacecraft from Earth to soft land on the Moon in nearly four decades since the touchdown of 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 before Chang’e-3.

China’s follow on Chang’e-4 Moon lander is due to blastoff in 2015.

Surely the science and engineering team will incorporate valuable lessons learned.

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.

Ken Kremer

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.

Awaiting Yutu’s Phone Home on Lunar Day 3

Will Yutu Phone Home ?
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 timelapse panorama. See complete 360 degree landing site timelapse 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
See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html[/caption]

Will ‘Yutu’ phone home? Will Yutu live to see another Earthrise?

Those are the million dollar questions we’re all awaiting the answer to on pins and needles as Lunar Day 3 begins for China’s world famous ‘Yutu’ moon rover and Chang’e-3 lander, following a significant malfunction as night fell two weeks ago.

With the Sun due to rise over the Mare Imbrium landing site, China’s maiden pair of lunar probes are due to awaken at any moment now – and hopefully send good news.

Yutu – which means ‘Jade Rabbit’- and the mothership lander have been sleeping through the utterly frigid two week long lunar night since they entered their second hibernation period on Jan. 24th and 25th respectively, according to Chinese space agency officials.

No communications are possible during the period of dormancy.

To get a clear view of Yutu’s traverse across the Moon’s magnificently desolate gray plains, be sure to check out our timelapse panoramic mosaic showing the rover’s movements at three different positions around the stationary lander – above and below.

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
See our Yutu timelapse pano at NASA APOD Feb. 3, 2014:
http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap140203.html

The 360 degree panorama by the imaging processing team of Ken Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo was also newly featured on Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) on Feb 3, 2014.

However, as I reported earlier here, Yutu suffered a rather serious mechanical anomaly just as the sun was setting and causing China’s moon mission team to urgently sprang into action.

“Scientists are organizing repairs,” wrote the People’s Daily, the official government newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Apparently one of the solar panels did not fold back properly over Yutu’s instrument laden mast after it was lowered to the required horizontal position and into a warmed electronics box to shield and insulate it from the extremely frigid lunar night time temperatures.

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

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
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

During each 14 Earth-day long night, the Moon’s temperatures plunge dramatically to below minus 180 Celsius, or minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit.

A radioisotopic heater unit keeps the Mast instruments warm, during lunar night, in the absence of solar power.

Dust accumulation on the rover and gears may possibly be to blame for the failure to retract, based on unofficial accounts.

China has not released any official or detailed information on the cause of the malfunction or recovery actions taken by Chinese space engineers.

So, no one knows the ‘Jade Rabbits’ fate at this time.

‘Jade Rabbit’ has been immensely popular with the Chinese public.

Over 36,000 well wishes were posted on an unofficial Sina Weibo account shortly after word of the mechanical anomaly was announced.

Lunar Day 3 at Mare Imbrium was due to start around this past weekend Feb. 8 or 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, 2013. Landscape textured with Chang’e 3 imagery from space and ground. Credit: CNSA/BACC

An anonymous writer on Weibo, China’s twitter equivalent, reported; “We will hopefully get back news of the rabbit after sunrise today February 10 at 15:00 hrs (3 pm), Beijing local time, and confirm whether safe or unable to move.” That is according to a google translation I used.

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.

They had been functioning perfectly and collecting science measurement as planned during Lunar Day 2.

‘Jade Rabbit’ had departed the landing site forever, and was journeying southwards as the incident occurred – about six weeks into its planned 3 month long moon roving expedition.

In a historic feat for China, the Chang’e-3 spacecraft safely touched down on the Moon at Mare Imbrium near the Bay of Rainbows some two months 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.

The 1200 kg stationary lander is expected to return science data about the Moon and telescopic observations of the Earth and celestial objects for at least one year.

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

The hugely popular probes could be the forerunners to a manned Chinese Moon landing mission a decade from now.

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.

Ken Kremer

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