China’s Yutu ‘Jade Rabbit’ still working – but immobile
The first lunar lander that the nation of China has fielded, Yutu (Chinese for the “Jade Rabbit”) is, in some aspects, paralyzed. The rover is still technically functioning — but it is incapable of moving. Launched in late 2013, the rover touched down on the Moon’s surface on Dec. 14, 2013, and ceased roving the desolate regolith in 2014. The rover, which had been given an estimated lifespan of some three months, only lasted for one month and 11 days. What has followed — since the robot carried out China’s first soft landing on another world — has been an eye-opening experience for a nation stretching its hand out into the Solar System.
Yutu gets its name from the pet rabbit of a goddess that flew to the Moon. The rover had a landing mass of about 310 lbs (140 kg) and was in development since 2002. The care and preparation that went into developing the six-wheeled vehicle were apparently not enough to protect Yutu from the hostile lunar conditions. According to a report appearing on Xinhua, Yutu’s control mechanism failed — on its second lunar day. It went dormant for a period, was revived, but the issues facing the rover have yet to be resolved.
“For the time being, it can be re-awakened but cannot move,” said Ye Peijian, chief scientist of China’s Chang’e-3 program.
Experts have offered up possibilities as to what might have gone wrong with the rover, including that it had been damaged by a rock. Given that the rover is now more than 250,000 miles (402,336 km) from where it had lifted off from, the situation is even more hampered that, according to Xinhua, “[…] its voltage has dropped after repetitive contraction and expansion due to the 300 degrees centigrade temperature difference between day and night on the Moon.”
Yutu was launched enclosed in the Chang’e 3 spacecraft which flew atop a Long March 3B Y-23 rocket from the Xichang LC-2 launch site in China.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.