Thursday, 13 February 2014

Moon rover awakes

China's lunar rover - the first spacecraft to land on our nearest planetary neighbour in 37 years - has awoken after its troubled dormancy.

But scientists are still trying to find out the cause of a mechanical control abnormality that occurred as the craft went into a scheduled two-week hibernation period during the lunar ‘night’.

After several days of uncertainty Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the Chinese space programme, announced this morning that the country’s moon rover had been restored to its normal signal reception function.

The problem emerged on 25 January before Yutu (Jade Rabbit) entered its second period of planned dormancy on the moon as lunar night fell.

"Yutu went to sleep under an abnormal status," Pei said, adding that experts were concerned that it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night.

"The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive," he said.

Its deployment on 15 December 2014 was the first successful landing on the Moon since 1976 and it was expected to operate for about three months.

Earlier reports in Chinese media had suggested that it had been declared dead on the surface of the moon.

In a report entitled ‘Loss of lunar rover’, the China News Service said that the rover "could not be restored to full function on Monday as expected" and was "mourned" by Chinese social media users.

China’s ‘Jade Rabbit’ lunar rover on the moon's surface
as seen from the landing platform in late December 2014.

The six-wheeled rover is designed to hibernate during the lunar night, when the sun dips below the horizon for two weeks and temperatures plunge to minus 180C (-292F).

The rover carries plutonium heaters to keep the rover's delicate electronics warm at night and is fitted with solar panels to generate power for the vehicle's science instrumentation, radio transmitters and other equipment. 

Before the sun goes down at Yutu's landing site, it is programmed to fold down its camera, antenna mast and solar panels. It is while executing these the rover ran into trouble 

Unofficial accounts posted on Chinese websites claimed it was unable to stow one of its solar panels over the retracted camera mast on top of the robot's instrument deck.

The Chang'e 3 lander and its rover (see Sleeping satellitemarked a milestone in China's ambitious long-term space exploration programme, which includes establishing a permanent space station in Earth orbit.

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