Jade Rabbit wakes up from lunar sleep
Feb 14, 2014 1 comment
China's first lunar rover, Jade Rabbit, has woken up after a two-week shutdown, but problems remain to get the probe fully operational. There were initially conflicting reports about the status of the mission after the English-language website of the state-owned China News Service reported that Jade Rabbit "could not be restored to full function as expected". However, China's official Xinhua news agency then said that mission control was still working to fix "control abnormalities", and that the rover "can be saved".
Jade Rabbit was launched on the Chang'e-3 probe on 2 December 2013 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province. The rover, which is expected to travel about 10 km over the surface of the Moon for a period of three months, is around 1.5 m long, 1 m wide, 1.1 m high and weighs 140 kg. In ancient Chinese mythology, Chang'e is the Chinese goddess of the Moon and Jade Rabbit was her pet. Chang'e-3 follows on from China's two successful lunar orbiters – Chang'e-1 and Chang'e-2 – which launched in 2007 and 2010, respectively.
Jade Rabbit carries a camera, radar plus infrared and X-ray spectrometers. The main mission of the rover is to survey the Moon's surface and geological structure. It will look for natural resources and take 3D images, as well as obtaining infrared spectra and analysing the lunar soil. The probe is also carrying a telescope and an ultraviolet camera to observe the universe and the plasma sphere around the Earth.
However, after initially taking some images of the Moon's surface, on 25 January Jade Rabbit experienced mechanical problems. These were apparently related to the probe's process for shutting down for the lunar night, which lasted more than two weeks and where temperatures plummet to –180 °C.
Upon waking up last month, Xinhau reported that the probe was "alive" and receiving signals from Earth. "It's awake. We have a signal," China National Radio quoted Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesman for the lunar-probe programme. "But the problem still hasn't been resolved." It remains unclear how long it will take to fix the problems and if the probe will ever be fully operational again.
About the author
Michael Banks is news editor of Physics World