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Headshot of Emily Lakdawalla

Chang'e 3 has successfully landed on the Moon!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

14-12-2013 8:28 CST

Topics: pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, spacecraft, the Moon, Chang'E program

UPDATE: The rover has deployed safely -- go to this blog post for animated gifs of rover deploy!

The official landing time for Chang'e 3 was 13:11:18 UT -- a full half-hour earlier than the time announced yesterday, which meant that I missed the action. Thank goodness for denizens of the Internet making screen caps of the images that the lander returned during its descent to the moon! There was not live video but there were video frames transmitted. According to a member of the mission team interviewed after the landing on Chinese state television (CCTV), they expected 10 frames to be transmitted but actually received 59. Here is an animation of a few of them:

Chang'e 3 lands on the Moon

CNSA / CCTV / Ian Regan

Chang'e 3 lands on the Moon
Chang'e 3 landed on the Moon at 13:11:18 on December 14, 2013 (UT), transmitting still video frames all the way down.

And here is that loveliest of images, a photo of a footpad on the surface of another world. Congratulations to China!

Chang'e 3 image from the lunar surface


Chang'e 3 image from the lunar surface
Chang'e 3's footpand sitting on the dusty soil of the lunar surface, taken just after landing.

Here is a replay of the landing:

And here is a color photo shot from a "monitoring camera" on Chang'e 3 well after the landing:

Image of the lunar surface from Chang'e 3 lander

Image of the lunar surface from Chang'e 3 lander
Chang'e 3 monitoring camera view of the surface around the lander

The lander has deployed its solar panels and is power-positive. They must vent their remaining fuel first before deploying the rover. According to this website, rover deploy is to happen eight hours after landing; CCTV live coverage is set to pick up again at 21:00 UT / 13:00 PT. Given that the landing itself was half an hour early, though, I'll be checking throughout the day to see if the rover deploy is happening earlier than scheduled, too.

Here are some screen caps showing what the rover deploy sequence looks like. The rover deploy sequence is as follows:

  • Fire pyros to unlock wheels from lander deck
  • Deploy rover solar panels
  • Deploy mast and take 360-degree panorama of landing site from atop lander (neat trick, that)
  • Cut cable to lander (not sure if this is an umbilical or just a cable tie)
  • Deploy landing ramp, which will end in midair
  • Drive rover onto landing ramp
  • Lower landing ramp toward lunar surface
  • Drive off of surface. Rover must drive far enough to get out of comm shadow of the lander. (Rover is driving off of anti-Earth side of lander)
  • Communicate with Earth

Here is video and description of the rover deploy sequence. I would have embedded it but couldn't figure out how to get it to not auto-play.

According to this tweet, it will be a full day after landing before the rover and lander will take photos of each other, an event that will be televised. I'll try to find more specific information on when this is to happen.

After the landing, CCTV placed the accomplishment into historical and global context. They noted the long history of U.S. and Russia exploration of the Moon -- that this landing is an important first for China but not a global first -- but also that it was the first in 37 years, and with a highly capable scientific spacecraft. They talked about the U.S. no longer having domestic capability to launch humans to space (which hurt, but the reporting was neutral and factual), and briefly mentioned U.S. planetary exploration, but correctly noted that almost all of NASA's $16-17 billion budget is spent on human spaceflight, and that that amount is less than one half of one percent of the U.S. budget. Then they talked about the rise of private, commercial spaceflight and expressed hope that that would revitalize American interest in human spaceflight.

Where did they land? They landed at their earliest opportunity, so it was in the far easternmost edge of the previously identified landing box. Here's a screen cap from the broadcast showing the landing location, at 19.51 degrees west, 44.12 degrees north:

Chang'e 3 landing location
Chang'e 3 landing location
Chang'e 2 high-resolution image coverage of Chang'e 3 landing area in Sinus Iridum

NASA / JPL / ASU / Phil Stooke

Chang'e 2 high-resolution image coverage of Chang'e 3 landing area in Sinus Iridum
This map shows the extent of the Chang'e 3 landing region, extending outside Sinus Iridum as well as inside it, and the areas where Chang'e 2 achieved imaging coverage at about 1.5 meters per pixel.

In a previous post I discussed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter plans for imaging the site after landing, with the first opportunity being December 25. But those plans assumed a landing near the center of the box, near Laplace A. So I'm not sure now when Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be attempting images of the lander -- stay tuned for that.

I want to thank the folks at for helping me -- and indeed much of the English-speaking Internet -- keep abreast of live developments in space exploration!

See other posts from December 2013


Or read more blog entries about: pics of spacecraft in space, mission status, spacecraft, the Moon, Chang'E program


Doug Currie: 12/14/2013 12:51 CST

I think the Chinese progress on missions to the Moon should be wake up call to America and Nasa to more seriously consider making manned missions to the Moon a priority interim destination for the Space Launch System instead of asteroids as the Space Launch System would be quite capable of this and would be ready soon is progress continues. Our ultimate destination should still be Mars. In view of Chinese progress we should complain less about the Space Launch System and make more effort to support it. However if Elon Musk can master manned space flight his rocket system would probably be cheaper and more efficient but he still needs more progress.

andrew cowley: 12/15/2013 10:38 CST

nice to see but a lot moor space juck

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