Chang’e 3 Rabbit Rover Moon-bound After Today’s Successful Launch

The Chinese moon rover “Jade Rabbit” will explore the moon for at least 3 months after landing on Dec. 14. The rover will be equipped with a camera, an instrument to determine the chemical element composition of lunar rocks and a radar device on its underside to measure lunar soil depths. Credit: Glen Nagle

In Chinese folklore, the familiar spots Westerners see as the face of the man in the moon instead outline Yutu the Jade Rabbit. A robotic version of Yutu successfully launched to the moon today at 11:30 a.m. CST (1:30 a.m. Dec. 2 China time). The mission, named Chang’e-3 after the female Chinese moon goddess, marks China’s first attempt at landing a probe on another world. If successful, it will be the first soft-landing on the moon since the 1976 Russian Luna-24 sample return mission.

Today’s liftoff of the Chang’e-3 mission to the moon 

The Jade Rabbit’s likeness in the moon. Credit: Wikipedia

After setting down near the 5.6-mile-wide (9 km) crater Laplace A in the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridium on Dec. 14, the 265-pound (120 kg) rover will roll of a the lander’s ramp and onto the lunar surface. Powered by solar cells, Yutu is expected to operate for at least 3 months and explore within a 3-miles (5 km) radius of the lander.

Meanwhile the lander will serve as a stationary science station and run off electricity generated by Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTGs). RTGs convert the heat radiated by the decay of plutonium-238 into electricity.

The lander will touch down in a picturesque part of the moon called Sinus Iridium or Bay of Rainbows near the crater Laplace A. The bay, a 160-mile-wide lava-flooded, relic crater, is easily visible in a pair of binoculars from waxing gibbous through last quarter phase. Credit: John Chumack (left) and NASA.

The lander is equipped with seven instruments and cameras for studying the lunar environment. The main instrument is a telescope for viewing the sky in near-ultraviolet light. With no atmosphere to filter UV out, scientists will photograph galaxies, stars and the Earth.

Apollo 17 Astronaut Jack Schmitt with Earth in the background. Credit: NASA / Eugene Cernan

It’s only a hope, but wouldn’t it be nice if mission control uses either the rover or lander cameras to make a few time exposures of the perpetually dark lunar sky, preferably with the Earth in the frame. As long as we’re there, wouldn’t you like to see our planet’s globe suspended among the stars of another world?

After landing, the rover will “walk” down a ramp from the lander to explore the moon. Its six wheels can be steered individually much like NASA’s Curiosity Rover.

While the Apollo astronauts photographed the Earth from the moon’s surface, they only captured the bright planet, not the stars. To do that would have required a time exposure and tripod, a task (and equipment) not on their list of a million things to do in the short time they spent on the moon.

Scale model of Yutu or Jade Rabbit rover shown at an industry fair in Shanghai in November. Credit: Reuters

Jade Rabbit will also use its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on a robotic arm to zap lunar rocks with alpha particles (helium nuclei) and X-rays and measure what’s scattered back to determine their elemental composition. It will also take pictures, shoot real-time video and carries a ground-penetrating radar device in its belly for measuring lunar soil depths down to 98 feet (30 m) and moon’s rocky crust to almost 1000 feet (300 m).

I’ll leave you with this lovely image of the moon accompanied by Saturn (above) and Mercury (lower left) over the Potomac River taken this morning Dec. 1, 2013 by Bill Paisley, one of our readers. Just think, we’ll be “getting our feet dirty” there in just two weeks. Copyright: Bill Paisley

Yutu can explore on its own but will be controlled and guided from Earth when necessary. The Chang’e-3 mission was preceded by the Chang’e 1 and 2 lunar orbiters and will be followed by a sample return flight and ultimately by a manned moon landing of taikonauts, the Chinese word for astronauts from the Cantonese ‘taikon’ or cosmos.

5 Responses

  1. Amazing video of the launch with dramatic engineering cameras on board (with purple and blue flames!) available here:
    The Moon booster configuration made me think of the European 1950’s sci-fi illustrations (Rocket XL-5, Tintin) but the technology is clearly 21st century. There will be a lot of action in the lunar vicinity over the next few years with missions from just about every space agency in the world and private interests as well. Just last month, the Canadian Space Agency presented their lunar rover prototypes and are working on a Chinese Lunar Lander equipped with a decent size telescope that will be operated from Earth. With all the mineral riches available on the Moon, “We” will have to rethink agreements concerning the exploitation of our natural satellite.

      1. caralex

        What’s the width of the Sinus Iridum, Bob? It would be nice if the camera could get a panoramic shot of the whole Bay and its surrounding mountains, but maybe the mountains would be too far away, and the curvature of the surface too much. What do you think?

        1. astrobob

          Hi Carol,
          It’s about 255 miles across. Not likely to see the mountainous edge from where the craft will land. Maybe the rim of Laplace A though.

          1. caralex

            Ah, that’s a pity. Still, it’ll be interesting to see the quality of these photos….and the inevitable conspiracy theories that’ll arise from them!

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