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What's up, Yutu
by Morris Jones
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Feb 17, 2014

Yutu as imaged by the Chang-e lunar lander.

It's been a few days since China said that the embattled Yutu Moon rover had sent a transmission back to Earth. Yutu suffered a mechanical anomaly roughly four weeks ago, shortly before it entered a frigid two-week lunar night.

The anomaly, believed to involve a faulty solar panel mechanism, threatened to cause Yutu to freeze to death in the darkness. Yutu was apparently silent after daybreak, but apparently transmitted something after roughly three days.

Since then, there has been a lack of information on the state of Yutu. China is investigating the state of the rover and probably working on strategies to continue its operations.

Right now, we don't know exactly how much of the rover works, how much could work in the future, or how much has been damaged beyond use. We also don't know if anything useful can be accomplished with the rover now.

China has been stingy on releasing information, but this is understandable. The Chinese themselves are probably slowly, methodically and cautiously testing their robot. Releasing any information prematurely could lead to confusion or concern.

How can they tell the world about the state of Yutu when they are not entirely sure themselves? The Chinese were fairly open about the fact that Yutu had suffered a mechanical anomaly and was generally not expected to survive. Given enough time, we can expect more official reports.

The state of the rover itself is also probably changing. As time passes, it is steadily being heated by the sun. This will probably affect the state and the functionality of some of its parts. The angle of the sun is also changing as the sun rises.

This means that different parts are illuminated at different times. Some of the rover's most sensitive components could be warmed back to life if they are hit by direct sunlight in the next few days.

For the moment, all we can do is wait and hope for the best. It's already a good sign that a transmission was received after the long night. This alone provides useful engineering information on the state of the rover's components and their suitability for future missions.

Dr Morris Jones is an Australian space analyst who has written for since 1999. Email Replace NOSPAM with @ to send email. Dr Jones will answer media inquiries.


Related Links
China National Space Administration
The Chinese Space Program - News, Policy and Technology
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Yutu Awakes
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Feb 13, 2014
After a considerable delay and some highly vague statements, China has indicated that the Yutu Moon rover is transmitting telemetry to Earth. This is a highly encouraging development, as it suggests that all is not lost for the embattled robot. It also counteracts earlier speculation by analysts (including this writer) that Yutu was completely dead. Yutu experienced problems shortly before ... read more

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