Xinhua: Yutu Moon Rover's Mechanical Problems Remain Unresolved

Xinhua: Yutu Moon Rover's Mechanical Problems Remain Unresolved

China’s official Xinhua news agency reports that the Yutu moon rover’s mechanical problems remain unresolved as the spacecraft enters its third period of dormancy.   The problems emerged a month ago when the rover was entering the second period of dormancy and everyone has waited anxiously to see whether it is still working.

The rover is designed to “sleep” through the cold 14-day lunar nights and then “reawaken” when sunlight returns to its location for 14 days of science operations. The rover and its Chang’e-3 lander arrived on the Moon on December 14, 2013.  Everything seemed to go well for that first cycle, but on January 25, when the second period of dormancy was approaching, China reported that the rover suffered a mechanical malfunction that might imperil future operations.

As sunlight returned to Yutu’s location in mid-February, the Chinese media finally reported that the rover had awakened, but implied that its future remained uncertain.  A spokesman for the program, Pei Zhaoyu, was quoted on February 13 as saying that the “rover stands a chance of being saved as it is still alive.”

Nothing else seems to have been reported in the official Chinese press about Yutu since then.  

In an article today entitled “Uneasy Rest Begins for China’s Troubled Yutu”, Xinhua states that Yutu is entering the third period of dormancy “with the mechanical control issues that might cripple the vehicle still unresolved.” 

Official Chinese sources provided little information about the nature of the problem, but western sources speculated that the rover’s mast (with an antenna and camera) and one of the two solar panels had not retracted properly so as to protect the interior of the rover from the cold.  However, today’s Xinhua article reports that the rover’s radar, panoramic camera and infrared imaging equipment “are functioning normally,” but “the control issues that have troubled the rover since January persist.”  It says the rover “only carried out fixed point observations.”    That suggests the problem is affecting its roving abilities rather than its scientific instruments.

Xinhua tweeted (@XHNews) a photo that it says was taken by Yutu of the Chang’e-3 lander “before its 3rd dormancy,” but not exactly when.  It appears that the rover and lander are close together, which may mean it was taken soon after the rover separated from the lander in December before it began its trek across the lunar surface, rather than during the past two weeks.

Photo of China’s Chang’e-3 lander taken by the Yutu rover, date uncertain.  Credit:  Tweet from Xinhua (@XHNews) February 23, 2014

Chang’e-3 and Yutu are China’s first spacecraft to make a survivable landing on the Moon.  Chang’e is China’s mythological goddess of the Moon and Yutu is her companion Jade Rabbit.

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