China's Moon rover 'comes back to life'

After being pronounced dead, the Jade Rabbit rover might now be saved


Credit: REX

The rover rolled off the Chang'e lander onto the lunar surface on 15 December 2013

Jade Rabbit lives to fight another day. A day after the Chinese lunar rover was pronounced dead, a signal was sent back to Earth, confirming that it is still functioning – though perhaps not quite as well as it was.

Trouble began for Jade Rabbit on 25 January when it experienced a mechanical fault, just before nightfall where temperatures on the Moon plummet to -180°C. To protect itself, the rover is supposed to fold up its equipment and enter hibernation mode. Experts worried that the fault would prevent this from happening properly.

At first it appeared their fears where well founded. On 10 February, when the rover was due to wake up it failed to rouse itself. The China National Space Administration officially announced it was inoperable two days later.

However the next day a signal was detected.

The exact cause of the initial fault  – and whether or not it can be fixed ­– is still unknown. Though the agency hasn’t released many details, the leading theory is that a build up of tiny lunar dust particles may have caused the malfunction. During the Apollo era the highly abrasive dust was responsible for damage to space suits and caused the Moon buggies to overheat. If this dust got into the joints of the rover, it could have prevented it from shutting down properly.

 “Jade Rabbit went into sleep mode whilst signalling abnormal status,” said Pei Zhaoyo, a spokesperson for the Chinese lunar programme. “We initially worried that it might not be able to bear the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night.”

Now that Jade Rabbit is returning to normal , the agency is hopeful of getting things back on track. “It is possible we could save it,” says Pei.



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