On Saturday December 14th, 21:12 Beijing time, China succeeded in landing Chang’e 3, its lunar lander and carrier of the Yutu robotic rover, on the moon. It is a first-ever for China and the first soft-landing on the lunar surface since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. Having successfully separated from its carrier, Yutu is currently driving on the lunar surface.
The 140 kg rover is a six-wheel robot outfitted with navigation and panoramic cameras. While solar-powered, it is designed to hibernate at night and survive three ultra-cold lunar nights, i.e. three Earth months. It carries a robotic arm with an Alpha-Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) as well as a belly-mounted radar to study the moon surface and below. The lander came down in Mare Imbrium, which geologically speaking is an interesting spot as it is very close to the boundary between high-titanium and low-titanium basaltic lava flows. The rover should be able to explore the nature of this boundary during its three month mission. During its mission, Yutu will explore a three square kilometer area, travelling a maximum distance of 10 km from the landing point. Chang’e 3 is also carrier a combination of scientific instruments and carriers as payload.
This mission is part of a highly ambitious space program that also includes manned spaceflight. In the moon exploration program, the current mission was preceded by lunar orbiters Chang’e-1 and 2. The next phase will comprise a sample return mission, to be followed by the final phase: a manned mission to the moon.
NOST has written up (in Dutch only, unfortunately) an overview of China’s space program that can be downloaded here.
More coverage on the mission can be found here.