Aerospace professionals have, for the past two months, been eagerly watching the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) Chang’e 3 mission to the Moon. Late last week, however, the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA’s) dreams of having its Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu (or Jade Rabbit) lunar rover successfully perform a lengthy mission (one year for the lander and three months for the rover) on the surface of the Moon were dashed.
Part of the Chang’e 3 lander was reported to have fallen asleep on 24 January 2014, whereas an abnormality related to the unmanned and autonomous Yutu rover was discovered on 25 January 2014. The harsh environment of space is thought to be the culprit.
The lander and rover are designed to go dormant during lunar night, which is the equivalent of 14 Earth days, to protect the vehicles’ electronics from the minus-180-degree temperatures. The pair survived the first lunar night of the mission, which occurred roughly one month ago.
Following the first lunar night, they arose from their first slumber and promptly set about their duties, which included: observing the sky with the lander’s optical telescope, recording the plasmasphere over Earth with the lander’s ultraviolet camera, conducting an ultra-high-frequency communication test between the lander and the moon rover, and logging scientific data via the rover’s radar, panoramic camera, particle X-ray device, and infrared imaging equipment.
CSNA officials have not yet provided concrete details as to the abnormality and its cause, aside from having discovered “something abnormal with [the rover’s] mechanical control system.” If the rover was unable to accomplish hibernation mode, it would be unable to protect its electronics from the bitter cold—essentially causing the Jade Rabbit to freeze to death. The mil/aero geek is anxious to hear from the CNSA.