Chang’e-5 descent stage seen just before sunset on February 7, 2021.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


NASA’s powerful LROC imaging system on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has produced a new photo of China’s Chang’e-5 descent stage sitting on the basaltic plains of Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) on the Moon.

China’s Chang’e-5 lunar mission was a successful multi-phase affair involving an orbiter, a lander, an ascender, and a returner spacecraft to haul back to Earth lunar samples, doing so on December 16th.

Box indicates Chang’e-5 lander on the basaltic plains of Oceanus Procellarum (“Ocean of Storms”) on December 2, 2020. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University 

The Chang’e-5 descent stage was left behind on the lunar surface after the ascent stage blasted off on December 3, 2020.

NASA’s LRO passes over the Chang’e-5 landing site (43.0576°N, 308.0839°E) about once a month, each time with different illumination. Over the next two months the lighting will be optimal for stereo images from which a detailed topographic map of the landing site can be made, according to Mark Robinson, the principal investigator for the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) at Arizona State University.


Dormant period

Meanwhile, China’s farside Moon landing mission, the Chang’e-4, has once again entered a dormant period of time within the Von Kármán crater exploration zone.

Chang’e-4’s farside landing zone.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Plunged into lunar night temperatures, both the lander and Yutu-2 rover have switched into dormant mode: 1:30 p.m. Friday (Beijing Time) as scheduled, and the Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2) rover, at 1:48 a.m. Friday, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

The lunar day and night cycle each equal 14 days on Earth.

Good condition

According to the CNSA, the Chang’e-4 mission has been operating on the farside of the Moon for 778 Earth days as of Saturday.

China’s farside rover images Chang’e-4 lander in the distance.


During that stretch of time, the Yutu-2 rover has wheeled itself across the lunar landscape roughly 2,142 feet (652.62 meters). The rover is in good condition, and all scientific payloads are working normally, said CNSA.

The Yutu-2 mobile machinery has exceeded its three-month design lifespan, becoming the longest-working lunar rover on the Moon.

Movement of the Chang’e 4 rover, Yutu-2, captured in NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LROC images.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Chang’e-4 headed for the Moon on December 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft farside touchdown on January 3, 2019 within Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin.

New map

A new Yutu-2 map has been produced by Philip Stooke of the University of Western Ontario’s Department of Geography, and Institute for Earth and Space Exploration.

Credit: Philip Stooke

“Everything is based on Chinese mapping up to the 26th night, with only the crudest estimate for the 27th day, but we know it was supposed to go southwest to look at a rock and we have an overall distance of 24 meters for the day’s drive,” he told Inside Outer Space.  “I think the hope now is that an ejecta block from the basalt area to the west (or excavated from the basalt under the current ejecta surface) will turn up so they can get its composition.  So they will look at every decent sized rock they see.”

One Response to “China’s Moon Exploration Hardware Viewed by NASA Lunar Orbiter (Updated with New Map)”

  • Ron A Creel says:

    Great work, Leonard! After I give my latest “Dust Alert” presentation to Clive Neal’s class at Notre Dame, I will send it to you.
    Then I am off (actually Online) to MIT and a couple of other sites
    that have also requested that presentation. Keep On Roving

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