China Launches First Lunar Rover Mission
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
China’s first lunar rover mission is underway, as the rocket carrying the six-wheeled robot known as Yutu lifted-off from Xichang at 01:30 Monday morning local time, various media outlets have reported.
Live pictures of the launch of the Long March 3B rocket carrying the rover were shown on state television, according to BBC News Science Editor Paul Rincon. The spacecraft should land in the Moon’s northern hemisphere in mid December, he added.
“This will be the third robotic rover mission to land on the lunar surface, but the Chinese vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload, including ground-penetrating radar which will gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust,” Rincon said. “The 120kg (260lb) Jade Rabbit rover can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour, according to its designer the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute.”
“The lander’s target is Sinus Iridum (Latin for Bay of Rainbows) a flat volcanic plain thought to be relatively clear of large rocks. It is part of a larger feature known as Mare Imbrium that forms the right eye of the ‘Man in the Moon’,” he added. “Other details of the mission are sketchy; the rover and lander are powered by solar panels but other sources suggest they also carry radioisotope heating units (RHUs) containing plutonium-238 to keep them warm during the cold lunar night.”
The rover’s name, Yutu, was selected by popular vote in an online poll that garnered over three million votes, according to the AFP news agency. The name means Jade Rabbit, and traces its origins back to an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as a pet of the lunar goddess Chang’e.
Since 2003, China, which is hoping to join the US and the Soviet Union as the only countries to complete a lunar rover mission, has sent 10 astronauts into space, launched an orbiting space module and sent a pair of probes to orbit the moon, the news agency added. The country’s space program has plans to eventually launch a manned mission to the moon, as well as establish a permanent space station within the next seven years.
According to the AFP, the Xinhua state news agency paraphrased Sun Zezhou, the chief designer of the lunar probe, as saying that the lunar probe had “great scientific and economic significance… The mission has contributed to the development of a number of space technologies and some of them can be applied in civilian sector.”
Yutu’s launch was officially confirmed on November 26, but at the time, no official launch date was provided by Chinese officials. As previously reported by redOrbit.com, the lunar rover is considered a part of the Chang’e Three mission, and the mission will also give scientists an opportunity to test deep space communication technologies.
NASA officials have voiced concerns that its own Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) could be disrupted by lunar dust raised by the Chang’e Three mission. LADEE is currently orbiting the moon in an attempt to gather data about the lunar atmosphere, and will require mission personnel to make frequent adjustments, even without possible interference from Yutu, the US space agency explained.