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China's Jade Rabbit Moon Rover Suffers Serious Malfunction

| 27 Jan 2014 19:23

Jade Rabbit, the first Chinese lunar rover, has malfunctioned, and repairs are being attempted.

The Chinese moon rover Yutu, which means "Jade Rabbit", suffered an unspecified "mechanical control abnormality", which scientists were working to repair, according to China's state news agency Xinhua. Xinhua quoted a government agency as saying that the problems were due to the "complicated lunar surface environment". The malfunction may jeopardize the rover's ability to survive the long lunar night ahead.

Jade Rabbit is part of the Chang'e-3 mission, the first Chinese mission to soft-land on the moon; and one of only three space programs to successfully do so, following the USA and USSR programs of the Cold War era. Intended to operate for three months from the December 14th landing, the rover will fall short of that goal by about half if it fails to weather the current lunar night.

The rover's troubles came just before it was scheduled to enter its second period of dormancy. During each two week night period there is insufficient light to power the rovers solar panels, and it goes into hibernation. Jade Rabbit has already successfully weathered one such night, but the malfunctions may make it difficult to weather a second. Universe Today's Ken Kremer reports that "Based on unofficial accounts, it appears that one of the solar panels did not fold back properly over Yutu's mast after it was lowered to the required horizontal position into a warmed box to shield and protect it from the extremely frigid lunar night time temperatures."

Although it has inevitably invited unfavorable comparison with NASA's martian rover Opportunity, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary on Mars, the Chang'e-3/Yutu mission has been largely successful in a field with an extremely high failure rate. The mission has inspired a great deal of pride and support from the Chinese public. The rover shares its name - chosen by a public poll - with the pet rabbit of the chinese moon goddess. Xinhua reports that people have rallied around the rover, sending tens of thousands of messages of support by Sunday afternoon.

Source: Xinhua, Universe Today

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