Thursday, January 30, 2014

'Made in China': Lunar Rover in Trouble


China's moon rover, Yutu (Jade Rabbit), has experienced a mechanical control abnormality, and scientists are organizing repairs.

The abnormality occurred due to "complicated lunar surface environment," the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND) said on Saturday, without giving further details.

The abnormality emerged before the rover entered its second dormancy at dawn on Saturday as the lunar night fell, according to SASTIND.

The lander, another part of the Chang'e-3 probe, also "fell asleep" earlier on Friday.

The pair went dormant for two weeks about one month ago when the first lunar night of the mission occurred.

One night on the Moon is about 14 days on Earth, during which the temperature falls below minus 180 Celsius. During the lunar night, there is no sunlight to provide power to Yutu's solar panel.

After the first dormancy, the lander's Moon-based optical telescope carried out observation of the sky, while its extreme ultraviolet camera observed the plasmasphere over the Earth, according to SASTIND.

An Ultra High Frequency communication test between the lander and the moon rover was also conducted.

The rover obtained scientific data through its radar, panorama camera, a particle X-ray device and infrared imaging equipment, said SASTIND.

The Chang'e-3 lunar probe soft-landed on the Moon on Dec. 14. Yutu separated from the lander hours later.

The success of the Chang'e-3 mission makes China the third country to soft-land a spacecraft on lunar soil after the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Humans have conducted a total of 130 lunar probe activities with a success rate of only about 51 percent, Wu Weiren, chief designer of China's lunar probe program, said in an earlier interview with Xinhua.

China's lunar probe missions -- Chang'e-1, 2, and 3 -- have all succeeded, according to Wu.

Lunar probe mission failure is not rare. In April 1962, the U.S. lunar probe Ranger 4 crashed into the dark side of the Moon after equipment failure prevented it from returning pictures and scientific data.

Japan launched a lunar probe in 1990, which soon moved off course. It failed to transmit any data and crashed into the Moon in 1993.

India managed to send a lunar probe into space in 2008, but an equipment in the main craft malfunctioned several months later, leading to the loss of contact with the unmanned spacecraft. - xinhuanet

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China's imperiled Jade Rabbit moon rover: 'Goodnight, humanity'

China's brand new moon rover is already saying farewell.

The diminutive lunar explorer, known as Jade Rabbit, or "Yutu" in Chinese, was about halfway through a three-month mission to study the moon's crust when it suffered a potentially crippling breakdown, said state media.

The report, authored by China's state-run Xinhua news, was written in the voice of the rover itself.

"Although I should've gone to bed this morning, my masters discovered something abnormal with my mechanical control system," said the Xinhua report, in the voice of the Jade Rabbit. "My masters are staying up all night working for a solution. I heard their eyes are looking more like my red rabbit eyes."

"Nevertheless, I'm aware that I might not survive this lunar night," it added.

During a lunar night, which lasts about 14 Earth days, the moon's surface temperature can plunge to minus-180 Celsius. To make it through the cold, the lunar rover must "hibernate" to preserve its delicate electronics.

If a mechanical problem keeps it from hibernating properly, then the Rabbit could freeze to death.

Named after a mythical rabbit who lives on the moon, Yutu was a source of national pride when it launched into space last December along with the lunar lander Chang'e-3, named after the moon goddess who kept Yutu by her side.

The successful lunar landing made China the third country in the world to perform a "soft landing" on the moon's surface.

Earlier, Yutu and Chang'e survived their first lunar night together, from Christmas until the second week of January.

The Chang'e-3 lander successfully entered a second hibernation on Friday and is expected to function normally for another year.

"[Chang'e] doesn't know about my problems yet," said the voice of Yutu in the Xinhua report. "If I can't be fixed, everyone please comfort her."

On social media, thousands of Chinese internet users sent their well-wishes to the little robot.

"You have done a great job, Yutu. You have endured extreme hot and cold temperatures and shown us what we have never seen," wrote one microblogger, as quoted by Xinhua.

Another wrote: "This is too heavy a burden. If the rabbit can not stand again, maybe we should let it have a rest."

Despite the setbacks, even the little Rabbit seemed aware of the odds it had overcome.

"Before departure, I studied the history of mankind's lunar probes. About half of the past 130 explorations ended in success; the rest ended in failure," noted the Jade Rabbit in its report.

"This is space exploration; the danger comes with its beauty. I am but a tiny dot in the vast picture of mankind's adventure in space.

"The sun has fallen, and the temperature is dropping so quickly... to tell you all a secret, I don't feel that sad. I was just in my own adventure story - and like every hero, I encountered a small problem," said the Rabbit.

"Goodnight, Earth," it said. "Goodnight, humanity." - CNN

The New Space Race: China vs. USA (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

China's Space Program - From Conception to Manned Spaceflight (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)

China in Space: The Great Leap Forward (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration)




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