China Launches Rover to Moon

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

A Chinese Long March-3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Launch Center early Monday morning carrying a six-wheel lunar rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit).

The Chang’e-3 lander is scheduled to touch down on China’s Sinus Iridum in mid-December, and Yutu will then begin a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.

A successful landing would make China only the third nation after the United States and Soviet Union to land a spacecraft on the moon. It will be the The moon landing — the first by any country since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976 — is scheduled for mid-December. Only the United States and Soviet Union have soft landed spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Chang’e is named for the Chinese goddess of the moon. Yutu is the jade rabbit kept by the goddess.

(Credit: CNSA)
Model of Yutu lunar rover. (Credit: CNSA)

Yutu — which measures 1.5 m (4.9 feet) high and weighs 120 kg (260 lb) — is designed to explore a 3-square kilometer area during its three-month mission. The vehicle is equipped with a camera, X-ray spectrometer, infrared spectrometer, and a radar unit that will measure the structure of the lunar soil down to a depth of 30 m (98 feet) and the lunar crust down to several hundred meters.

Yutu will also have the capability to dig into the lunar soil and perform basic analyses of samples. Chinese scientists have equipped the rover with sensors for avoiding objects and the ability to to navigate inclines.

The landing vehicle is equipped with seven instruments and cameras that will study the moon and its environment separately. The payload includes an astronomical telescope with an extreme ultraviolet camera that will be able to observe celestial bodies and study how solar activity affects the ion layer near Earth.

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