Short update from our chair of the ISTVS Robotics Committee, Dr Lutz Richter:
Another planetary rover mission started operations on January 3 this year: early that day, China succeeded in its second uncrewed lunar landing mission with Chang’e 4 touching down at a predesignated site within von Karman crater on the Moon, itself situated within the ancient South Pole Aitken impact basin.
The lander spacecraft carried the 140 kg Yutu-2 rover on its top deck, with both the lander and rover being repurposed spares from the first Chinese lunar lander mission, Chang’e 3, 5 years earlier. What makes Chang’e 4 special is that it represents the first ever landing on the far side of the Moon which, due to tidal locking of the Moon’s rotation with Earth, never faces the Earth.
To enable communications with the spacecraft and rover, China in the summer of 2018 had dispatched a dedicated relay satellite, Queqiao, that is stationed at the L2 libration point of the Earth-Moon system, some 60,000 km beyond the Moon and viewing simultaneously the landing site and the Earth. About 12 hours after landing, the Yutu-2 rover was successfully deployed to the surface and started operations.
Both the lander and the rover carry a mix of science payloads from China and European countries, representing a widened international cooperation in comparison with Chang’e 3. Lander and rover are designed for multiple survival of the 14-Earth-day lunar nighttime. On January 13, nighttime set at the landing site and, leading up to this, the vehicles were configured for nighttime thermal protection.
We congratulate China on this achievement.