Goodbye Jade Rabbit: China’s Yutu Lunar Rover Is Officially Lost Following Mechanical Glitch

Update (4:20 p.m. EST):  Jade Rabbit is showing signs of life. UHF-Satcom.com is reporting it has detected a signal from Yutu. Planetary.org cites a Xinhua story that also is optimistic that Jade Rabbit may be alive.

China’s Yutu (Jade Rabbit) lunar rover has been officially declared lost. The lunar rover suffered a mechanical glitch that put China’s moon mission in jeopardy two weeks ago.

Jade Rabbit China's Jade Rabbit lunar rover has not survived the lunar night.

The state-run China News Service, which reported the news, did not elaborate on the brief statement nor provide details on the cause of the glitch nor what China’s space agency tried to do to restore communication.

It will be a long lunar night for the Chinese as they have no choice but to wait before attempting to re-establish communication with the Jade Rabbit. The lunar night lasts for two weeks and the rover shuts down as it is powered by energy collected by its solar panels.

Jade Rabbit successfully shut down for the lunar night in December but experienced a “mechanical control abnormality” on Jan. 25. During the initial report of the glitch, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, SASTIND, said the problem was caused by lunar dust. It is believed the lunar rover could not fold its solar panels into position, which would mean its scientific instruments would be exposed to the lunar environment and temperatures reaching  -80 degrees Celsius (-292 degrees Fahrenheit).

In addition to the Jade Rabbit lunar rover, the Chang’e 3 lunar probe, which carried it to the moon, also experienced a glitch ahead of the lunar night. There are no reports if Chang’e 3 was also lost or if communication was restored with the probe.

Chang’e 3 was launched on Dec. 2, reached the lunar orbit on Dec. 6 and landed on Dec. 14. Jade Rabbit landed on the lunar surface and its scientific instruments began collecting data and sending images back to Earth. For China’s space program, the loss of the Jade Rabbit lunar rover is a setback, but it won’t stop lunar missions, with a planned launch in Chang’e 4 in 2015, and Chang’e 5 in 2017. Each of the missions will feature a lander and a lunar rover.

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