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

China Reveals Designs for Mars Rover Mission

For many space-faring nations, ambitions for Mars run broad and deep. Now, add China to the list of countries with Mars in their sights. News reports from China disclosed that country is considering a future Mars rover mission, with a potential 2020 launch date. Additionally came other hints that China may be looking to develop a next-generation heavy-lift launch system.

This new project, while early in development, reveals how Chinese aspirations are growing rapidly. Human space flight successes have been followed by recent lunar mission successes of the Yutu lunar rover and the Chang’e-5 T1 test of a sample return mission. The Chinese Mars missions could influence future plans of ESA, India and NASA or more simply raise the urgency to execute missions in concept or early development without hesitation.

China View reporter Lai Yuchen is seen describing and pointing out the future Sino-Mars rover with plans for a 2020 launch coinciding with the NASA/JPL Mars 2020 rover mission . (Click still image for video Link) (Photo/Video Credit: China View)
China View reporter Lai Yuchen is seen describing and pointing out the future Sino-Mars rover with plans for a 2020 launch coinciding with the NASA/JPL Mars 2020 rover mission . (Click still image for video Link) (Photo/Video Credit: China View)

The Mars rover mock-up display was presented at the aerospace show by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The design appears similar to the Yutu rover which landed successfully on the Moon late in 2013. While Yutu’s mobility system failed prematurely, many mission milestones were achieved.

The Mars rover design is significantly larger than Yutu but includes changes that can be attributed to the challenges of roving Mars at tens of millions of kilometers distance and under more gravitational force. The wheels are beefed up, since it must withstand more force and rugged martian terrain (gravity on Mars is 37% of the Earth’s in strength but 2.25 times the strength of gravity on the Moon’s surface.) The the solar panels are larger due to 1.) less sunlight at Mars – 35% to 50% of Earth’s, and 2.) more electrically demanding instruments.

The goals of the Chinese Mars rover will be to search for life and water. The NASA missions searching for indicators of habitable environments and for water has cost billions of dollars but the Chinese space program is operating on a fraction of what NASA’s annual budget is. Whereas the Chinese Mars program will be competing with the lunar program for government funds, it remains to be seen how quickly they can make progress and actually meet milestones for a 2020 launch date.

Besides video of the China View reporter presenting and discussing the Mars rover (link to photo above), the video also includes a simulation of the Chinese lunar sample return spacecraft, which is underdevelopment and was tested early this month during a the Chang’e-5 T1 circum-lunar mission that proved a small re-entry vehicle.

The future Chinese rover would be nearly as large as the MER rovers. Full scale models of all three NASA/JPL Mars rovers are shown here - Mars Pathfinder, MER and MSL in a JPL Mars yard with engineers.  (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL)
The future Chinese rover would be nearly as large as the MER rovers. Full scale models of all three NASA/JPL Mars rovers are shown here – Mars Pathfinder, MER and MSL in a JPL Mars yard with engineers. (Photo Credit: NASA/JPL)

The actual dimensions of this rover were not reported but an estimate of the size can be determined by the size of the high-gain directional antenna. Assuming it is an X-Band dish, like the one on the MER Rovers and Curiosity, then this Sino-rover would be near the same size as the MER rovers – Spirit and Opportunity. The Sino-rover shares a six wheel design like MER and MSL rovers.

Other reports from the China Daily indicated that industry leaders in China are urging China’s space agency to develop a more powerful heavy-lift launch system. It could be used for the nation’s human spaceflight goals to send a space station in to orbit, as well as send missions to Mars and beyond.

“It is a must for us to develop a more powerful heavy-lift rocket if we want to reach and explore deep space,” Zhang Zhi, a senior rocket researcher at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology the aerospace exhibition.

Plans also call for an orbiter to likely function as a communication relay as MGS, Mars Odyssey and MRO have done for the American rovers. Whether this would involve a single spacecraft such as the NASA Vikings or dual crafts such as the present American rovers with supporting orbiters is unknown. Given the successful landing of the Yutu rover encapsuled in a soft-lander, one might expect the same for the Chinese Mars rover rather than an airbag landing used by MER. Either way, they will be challenged by the seven minutes of terror just like the American rovers. They will have to solve for themselves the entry, descent and landing of a rover. Only American-made rovers have successfully landed on Mars; all Russian attempts have ended in failure.

The Chinese Lunar Sample Return mission is show in simulation in the China View video. This mission would pave the way for a Chinese Mars sample return by 2030. (Photo Credit: China View)
The Chinese Lunar Sample Return mission is show in simulation in the China View video. This mission would pave the way for a Chinese Mars sample return by 2030. (Photo Credit: China View)

The presentation also stated future plans for a sample-return mission by 2030. If the first Chineses Mars rover lands successfully in 2020, it will join up to four active rovers on the surface. Curiosity, ExoMars (ESA/NASA), Mars Rover 2020 and MER Opportunity. Six years seems like a long time but MER’s Oppy is a proven trooper having lasted over ten years. Curiosity, barring the unexpected, might last beyond 2020. ExoMars and NASA’s 2020 rover are still in development phases. Using ExoMars or 2020, NASA has plans to recover collected samples from rovers and return them to Earth in the 2020s and possibly as soon as 2022.

References:

China unveils first Mars rover and exploration system for red planet
China Daily

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 Rover Is Still Alive, Reports Say, As Lunar Panorama Released

It hasn’t been an easy few lunar months for the Yutu rover, which reportedly had problems positioning its solar panels in March while exploring the lunar surface. That said, reports are emerging that the rover is still alive. Along with those reports came a new panorama released in time for the Moon Festival in that country.

As you can see in the video above, the new panorama shows the Chang’e-3 lander and the tracks of the Yutu rover in the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains). The duo landed on the Moon on Dec. 14, 2013, with the rover on the top. Yutu then drove on its six wheels on to the surface only about seven hours after the touchdown happened.

The act was hailed as an accomplishment for China, which is the third nation to make a soft landing on the moon after the Soviet Union and the United States. It also was the first to touch down on the moon in more than a generation, as other lunar programs have focused on orbiters (such as NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which remains in operation above.)

According to the Twitter account UHF Satcom, the X-band carrier signal for Yutu was strongly audible from Earth yesterday (Sept. 7), although the lander was not audible.

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

Low-Flying Moon Probe Spies Craters And Mountains While Seeking Stars

A series of images from NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) in Februrary 2014 showing the moon. Credit: NASA Ames
A series of images from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) in Februrary 2014 showing the moon. Credit: NASA Ames

While NASA’s newest lunar probe was tracking the stars, it also captured the moon! This series of star tracker images shows Earth’s closest large neighbour from a close-up orbit. And as NASA explains, the primary purpose of these star-tracking images from the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was not the lunar pictures themselves.

Continue reading “Low-Flying Moon Probe Spies Craters And Mountains While Seeking Stars”

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

China’s Lunar Lander Spotted by Orbiting Spacecraft

Not much on the Moon escapes the eyes of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and China’s Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover are no exception! The pair touched down on the lunar surface on Dec. 14, and just over a week later on Dec. 25 LRO acquired the image above, showing the lander and the 120-kg (265-lb) “Jade Rabbit” rover at their location near the Moon’s Sinus Iridum region.

The width of the narrow-angle camera image is 576 meters; north is up. LRO was about 150 km (93 miles) from the Chang’e-3 site when the image was acquired.

So how can we be so sure that those bright little specks are actually human-made robots and not just a couple of basaltic boulders? Find out below:

According to School of Earth and Space Exploration professor Mark Robinson’s description on Arizona State University’s LROC blog:

The rover is only about 150 cm wide, yet 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). Since the rover is close to the size of a pixel, how can we be sure we are seeing the rover and not a comparably sized boulder? Fortuitously, the NAC acquired a “before” image of the landing site, with nearly identical lighting, on 30 June 2013. By comparing the before and after landing site images, the LROC team confirmed the position of the lander and rover, and derived accurate map coordinates for the lander (44.1214°N, 340.4884°E, -2640 meters elevation).

Before-and-after LROC images of Chang'e-3's landing site
Before-and-after LROC images of Chang’e-3’s landing site: June 30 vs. Dec. 25, 2013

LRO circles the Moon in a polar orbit at an average altitude of 50 km (31 miles). The LROC instrument contains two narrow-angle camera heads (NACs) providing 0.5-meter/pixel panchromatic images over a 5-km swath, a wide-angle camera head (WAC) providing images at a scale of 100 meters in seven-color bands.

Both the Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover are reported to be in good health and performing well. The solar-powered rover went into sleep mode on Dec. 26 to wait out the 14-day lunar night, during which time the temperatures on the lunar surface can drop to -180ºC (-292ºF). Yutu’s radioisotope heat source will keep it from freezing, but it won’t be able to generate power from its solar arrays. (Source)

Read more on ASU’s LROC website, and check out Ken Kremer’s article featuring a video of Yutu’s rollout here.

Image credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

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.