What’s up, Jade Rabbit?

Photo courtesy Chinese Academy of Sciences/Xinhua, via Spaceflight101.com

JISHOU, HUNAN — China’s lunar rover, 玉兔 Yu Tu (Jade Rabbit), woke up March 13 for its fourth lunar day of work, but its roving days are over.

Last month, Jade Rabbit lost its ability to move. Now it seems the craft has stopped working altogether.

Meanwhile, China’s Internet censors seem to be blocking space-related websites that have been covering the mission since Yu Tu and its sister craft, the Change’E lander, arrived on the Moon in December. When I tried to visit Universe Today, Nature and The Planetary Society for updated news reports, all attempts failed. Spaceflight101.com, however, worked, so that’s where this update largely comes from.

While everything was working according to plan, Chinese media were all over the story. Now that Jade Rabbit is largely out of commission, perhaps Chinese media censors want to keep updates muted.

The two probes’ soft landing in the Mare Imbrium basin were the latest coup for China’s aggressive space flight program. Both Change’E and Yu Tu were working optimally during the first month of the mission, sending back data and photos through January. Yu Tu was able to drive away from the landing site, as planned.

Then as the second lunar night approached Jan. 25, Jade Rabbit had troubles hunkering down for the frigid two-week-long night. The rover is designed to fold its solar panels over itself and to pull in its communications mast to keep its electronics warm. But that process didn’t entirely work.

Two weeks later, Jade Rabbit woke up, but couldn’t move. Engineers suspect the extreme temperature swings between lunar night and day may have cracked a circuit board. The rover was able to do some stationary science for the third lunar day, and once again had trouble entering nighttime configuration in late February.

Jade Rabbit woke up again sometime after the sunrise of March 10, but still immobile. Considering it was designed to last three lunar days (that’s three months’ time here on Earth), it has met its design parameters.

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