Time-lapse 360-degree color panorama from China’s Chang’e-3 lander shows Yutu at two different positions at its landing site from Dec. 15-18, 2013. Image credit: CNSA/Chinanews/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com /Marco Di Lorenzo

Apr 8, 2014 China’s Yutu moon rover exceeds design life and is still functioning

Sen—China’s inaugural Moon rover Yutu has beaten the odds and remains functional beyond its design lifetime despite suffering a potentially life threatening malfunction barely six weeks into its groundbreaking mission, says a top space manager.

Although Yutu was designed to last three months, it was still functioning as of late March 2014 when it entered its current two week long night time hibernation period, said Yu Dengyun, deputy chief engineer of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, according to the Chengdu Business Daily.

Since Yutu and the Chang’e-3 lander are both solar powered, they can only operate during periods of lunar daylight which last about two weeks. They each must power down and sleep during every lunar night, which also lasts about two weeks, since there is no sunlight to generate power or communicate with the team back on Earth.

Yutu successfully exceeded its design lifetime in mid-March 2014, which coincided with its awakening on March 14 for Lunar Day 4. The lander had awoken two days earlier on March 12.

The 140 kilogram robot continued making scientific measurements and taking images throughout Lunar Day 4. 

“Yutu has not lost its scientific exploration functions and is still able to send back data and photos on the spot,” said Ye. “The mind, mouth and heart are functioning normally."

The beloved robot went dormant as planned on March 24 at the start of its 4th lunar night on March 24.

However, Yutu is still unable to move its wheels due to “unresolved mechanical problems” that mysteriously befell the world famous robot just prior to going to sleep for Lunar Night 2 on Jan. 25, 2014.

The technical anomaly also resulted in an inability to maneuver the solar panels to optimize power production.

Since late January, mission scientists have sought in vain to determine why Yutu can’t move its wheels or solar panels.  

In early March, Chinese space officials announced that “Yutu suffered a control circuit malfunction in its driving unit.”

“Experts are still working to verify the causes of its mechanical control abnormality,” says Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesperson for China’s lunar probe program, according to China’s state owned  Xinhua news agency.  

Yutu soft landed on Earth’s nearest neighbor on Dec. 14, 2013, piggybacked atop the Chang’e-3 mothership lander at Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains), a desolate region covered by volcanic materials.

Some seven hours later, engineers commanded the six wheeled robot to drive down a pair of landing ramps and begin China’s first extraterrestrial space expedition across the surface of another celestial body.

Yutu then drove in a clockwise direction around the 1400 kilogram stationary lander, collecting science data and snapping images during it first two lunar days.

It is currently situated about 20 meters from the lander.     

Click here to view our mosaic of Yutu’s Lunar Day 3 lander image as well as our complete 360 degree timelapse color panorama assembled by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Chinese space officials hope Yutu will awake from its current slumber around April 10. But the actual awakening date all depends on when enough sunlight hits the solar panels to generate enough power to send a transmission homewards, since the arrays won’t budge.

Yutu won’t be declared dead until there are no further communications.

"Yutu will continue its dormancy, awaking and working until it totally loses its functions," according to Yu.