China's Chang'e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover. Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

China’s Chang’e 3 Moon lander and Yutu rover.
Credit: Chinese Academy of Sciences

China’s Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, moon rover is apparently still “alive” entering into its eighth “working day” – a period of time equal to roughly 14 Earth days.

However, the overall health of the robotic rover is not good. Yutu suffered a mechanical control problem in late January. Its antenna and solar panels could not fold to assist the robot in fully surviving the plunging cold temperatures during the 14 day lunar night.

Still, the automaton has outlived its designed lifespan of three months since it reached the Moon in mid-December 2013, Chinese space officials point out.

The lunar explorer now sits about 65 feet (20 meters) from the Chang’e-3 lander that deployed Yutu onto the lunar landscape.

According to China Daily, in an interview with Zhang Yuhua, deputy head of Yutu’s design team, experts now believe that the robot was likely damaged by large rocks when it was moving. Zhang said the landing site’s environment was even worse than scientists had expected.

“Experts’ initial judgment for the abnormality of Yutu was that the rover was ‘wounded’ by colliding with stones while moving,” she said in a Xinhua news story. “Yutu has ‘over-served’ its time on the Moon and sent lots of data back to Earth. We hope it can continue to work miracles,” Zhang said.

Drawing of Chang'e 5 lunar sample return craft. Credit: CNSA

Drawing of Chang’e 5 lunar sample return craft.
Credit: CNSA

Return samples of the moon

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists and engineers are working on the third phase of China’s lunar exploration venture – robotically landing on the Moon and rocketing back to Earth samples extracted from the lunar surface.

A Chang’e 5 mission to accomplish this feat is to be carried out in 2017, said Wu Weiren, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration program in a recent Xinhua story.

Work is apparently underway to conduct a high-speed re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere as a precursor test for the Chang’e 5 sample return mission. That test flight seemingly has hardware flung outward to the Moon on a circumlunar trajectory – with the re-entry capsule screaming back into the Earth’s atmosphere at high-speed and recovered.


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