One of two near-identical images making the rounds on Chinese news sites, apparently taken during the Yutu rover's third lunar day. Credit: SASTIND

One of two near-identical images making the rounds on Chinese news sites, apparently taken during the Yutu rover’s third lunar day. Credit: SASTIND

Both China’s Chang’e 3 lunar lander and Yutu rover are now in Selene slumber, entering their dormancy Feb. 22-23.

The overall condition of the hardware is sketchy at best, with little word or imagery being released by Chinese space officials and state-run media networks.

A couple of new images taken by the mechanically-challenged Yutu moon rover showing the large lander have surfaced on several Chinese news sites. The images are undated so when they were snapped is unclear.

But in a Xinhua news agency story, it says one of the recent photos that went viral on Chinese social media networks “featured a picture of the Chang’e-3 probe taken by Yutu during its third lunar day.”

Fixed point science

According to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), Yutu did carry out “fixed point” observations during its third lunar day – a period of time equivalent to about two weeks on Earth.

SASTIND did note that Yutu’s radar, panorama camera and infrared imaging equipment are functioning normally. Still, the control issues that have troubled the rover since January persist, they added.

The Xinhua news agency noted that mechanical control issues that might cripple the vehicle are “still unresolved.”

Power-off mode

The Yutu rover went to sleep mode on Saturday afternoon, Feb. 22.

During the lunar night, there is no sunlight to power the rover’s solar panels. In this period the rover is to remain in a power-off mode and communication with Earth is cut, Xinhua reported.

The Chang’e 3 lander made its lunar touchdown in mid-December then dispatched the Yutu (Jade Rabbit) robot to being a projected minimum three months of exploration. Pre-launch, the lander was given a one year of life warranty.

But Yutu ran into unexpected problems as it entered its second dormancy on the Moon on Jan. 25. As the lunar night fell, concern was raised that the robot was crippled, so much so, that it might not “wake up.”

SASTIND said that the mechanic control abnormality occurred due to the “complicated lunar surface.”

The reawakening

But Yutu regained some sort of operable status on Feb. 12, with SASTIND noting that the reawakening was two days behind schedule.

Meanwhile, Xinhua said that the Chang’e 3 lander entered dormancy in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Feb. 23.

It did so “after carrying out observations of celestial bodies and the Earth’s plasmasphere using its optical telescope and extreme ultraviolet camera.” So these words indicate that the instrument-carrying lander is in fairly good shape.

 

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