[meteorite-list] China Successfully Lands Robotic Rover on the Moon

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2013 15:12:32 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201312142312.rBENCWJX003148_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


China successfully lands robotic rover on the moon
December 14, 2013

A Chinese robotic rover landed on the moon Saturday, becoming China's
first outpost on another world after a rocket-powered descent to an unexplored
barren volcanic plain.

Chang'e 3 returned real-time imagery of the moon from an on-board descent
camera. Credit: CCTV
The ambitious Chang'e 3 mission also achieved the first "soft landing"
on the moon in 37 years, and it made China the third country to pull off
the feat after the United States and Russia.

Touchdown occurred at about 1311 GMT (8:11 a.m. EST; 9:11 p.m. Beijing
time). China said the lander was aiming for a landing in the Bay of Rainbows,
a dark basin on the moon's near side filled with lava that congealed billions
of years ago.

The Chang'e 3 lander dropped from a low-altitude orbit, using its variable-thrust
main engine to reduce its velocity from orbital speeds of 1.7 kilometers
per second, or about 3,800 mph, to nearly zero.

Chinese media reports said the lander was designed to halt its descent
about 300 feet above the lunar surface to ensure the landing zone was
clear of hazards such as boulders or steep slopes.

Once the probe's autonomous hazard detection system was satisfied the
landing site was safe, Chang'e 3 resumed its descent before shutting off
its engine about 10 or 15 feet above the moon. Chinese officials said
they designed the craft's landing sets with impact suppressors similar
to shock absorbers.

Laser and radar ranging sensors supplied altitude and terrain data to
Chang'e 3's computer, giving the lander navigation cues during the final

Such on-board smarts have never been used on an unmanned lander before.

Chinese state television broadcast the landing live, showing animation
and real-time imagery from Chang'e 3's camera.

Engineers at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center, who appeared
stoic and reserved before landing, erupted in applause and flashed smiles
when the touchdown was announced.

A few minutes later, officials confirmed the 12-foot-diameter lander's
solar panels deployed.
A six-wheeled mobile rover was expected to detach from the lander later
this weekend, perhaps as soon as a few hours after touchdown. Officials
said the lander would first vent leftover propellant.

The rover will drive several miles around the landing site, surveying
the dusty charcoal-colored landscape for several months.

China named the rover Yutu after soliciting suggestions from the public.
Yutu translates as "Jade Rabbit" in English.

In Chinese mythology, Yutu is a rabbit who accompanies the goddess Chang'e
to the moon.

Yutu will beam 3D imagery of the moon back to Earth and measure the composition
of lunar soils and rocks.

The rover is also equipped with a ground-penetrating radar to survey the
structures below the moon's surface.

"As the rover drives along the lunar surface, it will be as if it can
cut and see 100 meters [328 feet] below," said Ouyang Ziyuan, a researcher
at the China Academy of Sciences and senior advisor to China's lunar exploration
program, in an interview with Chinese state television.

Ouyang said the rover will use nuclear batteries to keep warm during lunar
nights. Temperatures dip as minus 292 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 180 degrees
Celsius) during nights on the moon, exposing delicate electronics to cold
conditions for two weeks.

Yutu is smaller than NASA's Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars.
The Chinese lunar rover stands about 4.9 feet tall and has a mass of about
140 kilograms, or 308 pounds.

The lander and Yutu rover will snap photos of each other, and the mission's
stationary lander will operate for up to a year doing its own investigations.
The lander's instruments include an ultraviolet telescope to observe the
Earth and other scientific targets.

It could take several days to pinpoint the probe's exact location on the

An initial position estimate put the landing site at 44.12 degrees north
latitude and 19.51 degrees west longitude. The estimate will be refined
over the coming days.

Two European Space Agency tracking antennas were called up to receive
signals from Chang'e 3 on Saturday. One of the European-owned ground stations
in Australia tracked the lander throughout its descent, and another near
Madrid was on standby to pick up a signal from Chang'e 3 a few hours after

The New Norcia station near Perth received a strong signal from Chang'e
3 throughout its descent, according to an ESA official at the European
Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

Chang'e 3's ground team at the Beijing Aerospace Command and Control Center
monitored the landing through China's own communications antennas, but
ESA's ground stations were configured to provide navigation support.

Using quasars, bright beacons at the hearts of distant galaxies, ESA can
attain precise position estimates for spacecraft flying through deep space.
Chang'e 3 will be the first time the technique -- Delta-Differential One-Way
Ranging, or delta-DOR -- has been used for a stationary probe on the surface
of another celestial body.

In the delta-DOR technique, engineers compare the exact time a spacecraft's
signals are received at two ground stations -- in Australia and Spain
for the Chang'e 3 mission. The antennas simultaneously track a quasar,
which have known locations, to correct for errors induced by radio signals
passing through the Earth's atmosphere.

China's moon landing comes after the country launched two orbiters to
the moon in 2007 and 2010.

One of the satellites, Chang'e 2, left the moon and became China's first
interplanetary probe. Chang'e 2 flew by asteroid Toutatis in December
2012, returning the first close-up images of the potato-shaped object.

According to Ouyang, considered the father of the Chang'e lunar program,
China will dispatch a robotic mission to the moon in a few years to return
rock samples to Earth. The Chang'e 5 mission will launch in 2017, previous
Chinese news reports said.

China has no public plans for a human mission to the moon, but scientists
have said they are studying the possibility of manned expeditions in the
Received on Sat 14 Dec 2013 06:12:32 PM PST

Help support this free mailing list:

Yahoo MyWeb