November 26, 2013
China’s First Lunar Rover Prepares For December Launch
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According to a report from China’s state-run media agency Xinhua, the world’s most populous nation will launch a rocket in early December carrying its first lunar rover.
Named via an online poll, the rover has been dubbed Yutu, or “jade rabbit,” after the pet of the moon goddess Chang’e who, according to Chinese folklore, flew up to the moon after swallowing an immortality pill. The rabbit’s image is supposedly visible from the Earth’s surface, in much the same way many Westerners see the Man in the Moon.
Citing China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense as a source, Xinhua did not provide an official launch date for the mission. The country has already sent two probes to orbit the Moon. The first probe, Chang’e One, was crashed into the Moon by its operators after completing its mission in 2009.
The lunar rover is considered a part of the Chang’e Three mission, which will also include placing a lander on the lunar surface.
"Chang'e Three's mission requires mastering many key technologies. The technical difficulties and the risks involved in carrying out the mission will be high," space agency spokesman Wu Zhijian said recently on state television.
"In taking on the mission to land on the moon, Chang'e Three will help China fulfill it's lunar exploration dream, it's space dream and the Chinese dream," Wu added.
The spokesman said mission controllers are shooting for a soft landing at the designated landing spot, a lunar feature called the Bay of Rainbows. In addition to deploying the lunar rover, mission scientists will also test deep space communication technologies.
"Yutu is a symbol of kindness, purity and agility, and is identical to the moon rover in both outlook and connotation," Li Benzheng, deputy commander-in-chief of China's lunar program, told Xinhua. "Yutu also reflects China's peaceful use of space.”
In a series of moves reminiscent of Cold War-era Moscow, Beijing has recently been framing its space agency’s accomplishments as benchmarks of its global stature. In addition to any geopolitical implications, the latest Chinese mission could also raise some scientific problems for NASA.
NASA officials have voiced concerns that any lunar dust raised by the Chang’e Three mission could disrupt its own Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission. The LADEE is orbiting the Moon in an effort to gather information on the wispy lunar atmosphere. NASA officials announced just this week that the orbiter was in place and ready to start gathering data.
NASA officials say the nature of the mission will require operators to constantly make adjustments, even without inference from the Chinese mission.
"Due to the lumpiness of the moon's gravitational field, LADEE's orbit requires significant maintenance activity with maneuvers taking place as often as every three to five days, or as infrequently as once every two weeks," said Butler Hine, a LADEE project manager. "LADEE will perform regular orbital maintenance maneuvers to keep the spacecraft’s altitude within a safe range above the surface that maximizes the science return."