Emily LakdawallaFeb 24, 2014

Sunset on Chang'e 3's third lunar day: Yutu not dead yet, but not moving either

There has been little news on the status of the Chang'e 3 mission over the course of its third lunar day. For the lander, we are in a no-news-is-good-news phase. According to a brief news story posted in Chinese last week, the lander's astronomical observations continue as normal.

For Yutu, the good news is that the rover survived the second lunar night with functioning scientific instruments. But the bad news is that the rover does not currently appear capable of roving, according to a Xinhua state news agency report in English: "China's lunar rover Yutu also entered the dormancy on Feb. 22, with the mechanical control issues that might cripple the vehicle still unresolved. According to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), Yutu only carried out fixed point observations during its third lunar day, equivalent to about two weeks on Earth. Yutu's radar, panorama camera and infrared imaging equipment are functioning normally, the control issues that have troubled the rover since January persist."

Along with that update, they released two photos of the lander. I have here the highest-quality versions of those photos that are available on the Web, sent to me by an anonymous source who does not wish to be identified but who assures me that the images have been approved for release. They show the lander as seen from the rover, taken during the third day of surface operations. Their perspective on the lander shows that during the second day, Yutu continued moving clockwise around the lander.

Here's the left-eye image:

And the right-eye image:

And here's a version of the pair that I've processed into stereo. The composition is not great for stereo imaging (the camera was tilted and there's a lot of parallax in the spacecraft, which is cut off at the right edge, making it pretty much impossible to pick a comfortable spot to focus the image), but it's a stereo pair of images from a spacecraft that's not even supposed to still be functioning on the surface of another world, so I'm not complaining.

Here is Phil Stooke's attempt at determining the rover's current position, based in part on that stereo pair of photos. Hopefully we'll see a publicly released Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photo some time soon that will corroborate this position estimate. LROC had plans to snap photos on January 22, February 19, and March 19.

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