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China reaches for the Moon
December 13, 2013 7:14 AM   Subscribe

This Saturday, the Jade Rabbit will meet with Chang’e when China attempts its first landing of an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon.

The legends vary on why Chang’e (Goddess of the Moon) left Earth, but she is notable for being the only lunar deity that actually lives there. Her only companion is Yutu (the Jade Rabbit), who is pounding ingredients for rice cakes. The myth was mentioned to the Apollo 11 crew, who said they’d keep an eye out for her.

Chang’e is also the name of a series of Chinese lunar spacecraft. Chang’e 1, launched in 2007, created the most accurate map of the Moon’s surface. In 2010, Chang’e 2 was launched to closely orbit the Moon, then departed to study the ginger root shaped asteroid Toutatis. Later, it ventured further into deep space to further test China’s deep space tracking, communications and control system.

Chang’e 3 was launched on December 2nd of this year and is part of the second phase of China’s Lunar Exploration Program. After entering lunar orbit on December 6th, it has been slowly migrating to its descent burn point and is supposed to land at 15:22-15:35 UTC (10:22-10:35am EST) on the plains of the Bay of Rainbows.

Once landed, a rover named Yutu ( Jade Rabbit) will roll down a ramp and begin its 3 month exploration of the lunar surface. Aboard Yutu are several instruments and cameras designed to substantially increase knowledge of the lunar crust and soil.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (66 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
The English version of CCTV will probably offer the best coverage of the event, at the science/tech sub-site.

Check out the map in this article for an idea of where Chang'e 3 will land. It's in Mare Imbrium, at the upper left of the image. Yutu will not be landing near or investigating any previous spacecraft landing sites.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:19 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yay China!

It will be really nice to get some recent high def pictures of the Moon. Sure, they won't look much different than the Apollo photos, and they won't have astronauts and manned landers in them, but we'll be able to look at them and think "this was taken on the surface of the Moon yesterday." The surface of the freakin' Moon.

Meanwhile, I've killed dozens of innocent Kerbins attempting to land on the Mun in a damn video game. Poor little guys.
posted by bondcliff at 7:24 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was curious, so I googled; the rocket in use is the Long March 3B.

It's easy to let nationalism bring forth some uglier thoughts (shame, resentment, for starters), but efforts like these really are "For All Mankind."
posted by notyou at 7:25 AM on December 13, 2013


Meanwhile, I've killed dozens of innocent Kerbins attempting to land on the Mun in a damn video game. Poor little guys.

You gotta kill that horizontal velocity before dropping down for a landing, then fire rockets a few seconds before landing to brake. Put extra landing legs on, so to cushion the impact.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:31 AM on December 13, 2013


It will be really nice to get some recent high def pictures of the Moon.

For fun of comparisons, here are NASA's recent images of Mars, including a recent composite image of the Yellowknife Bay Formation (annotated) in the Gale crater.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:38 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Other notes: That last spacecraft to land on the Moon was the Soviet's Lunokhod 2, in 1973

Chang'e 3's landing may give NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) the opportunity to study how fuel spreads and settles through the Moon's very, very thin atmosphere.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:47 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some day I'd like to see more from Venus or Titan. Better yet, Europa.
posted by bondcliff at 7:48 AM on December 13, 2013


OMG ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE
posted by Hlewagast at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


Go jade rabbit go!
posted by rmd1023 at 7:53 AM on December 13, 2013


OMG ATTEMPT NO LANDING THERE

Screw that, go ahead and land. STICK IT TO THE BOWMAN!
posted by bondcliff at 7:54 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wikipedia has the most concise article about Chang'e and the variations in the legend.

OOPS, the "was launched" link is wrong. Here's video of the launch and orbital insertion. If a mod could fix?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:03 AM on December 13, 2013


Done!
posted by cortex at 8:06 AM on December 13, 2013


I am lukewarm to this enterprise; to me it smacks of lunar militarization.
posted by Renoroc at 8:16 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Incidentally, Chang'e already has a jade rabbit for a pet, and as anyone who has had rabbits, one rabbit good, two rabbits dangerous.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2013


On the one hand, good for all humanity. On the other, what are the chances they repossess the flag that's up there?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2013


Maybe this is speaking as a person for whom the moon landing was always a given, happening over a decade before I was born, but I don't particularly care much about the flag up there or that someone who happened to live in the same macropolity as me was first. It's more amazing to me that humanity managed to launch anything up there, let alone a handful of live humans.
posted by maus at 9:01 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some day I'd like to see more from Venus or Titan. Better yet, Europa.

Water Eruptions on Europa Mean that Conditions Are Ripe for Life
posted by homunculus at 9:05 AM on December 13, 2013


On the other, what are the chances they repossess the flag that's up there?

Well, they made it so...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:09 AM on December 13, 2013


Arthur C. Clarke, friend of my youth.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:22 AM on December 13, 2013


They can't do that, the moon is OURS!
posted by monospace at 9:29 AM on December 13, 2013


Would radiation and weird temperature things have bleached the flag to the point where it's functionally colorless by now? At least on the side that's up. (I believe the flag fell over when the LEM launched.)
posted by rmd1023 at 9:32 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Potomac Avenue: On the other, what are the chances they repossess the flag that's up there?

rmd1023: Would radiation and weird temperature things have bleached the flag by now?

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum blogger, Paul D. Spudis, thinks so:
Over the course of the Apollo program, our astronauts deployed six American flags on the Moon. For forty-odd years, the flags have been exposed to the full fury of the Moon’s environment – alternating 14 days of searing sunlight and 100° C heat with 14 days of numbing-cold -150° C darkness. But even more damaging is the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the pure unfiltered sunlight on the cloth (modal) from which the Apollo flags were made. Even on Earth, the colors of a cloth flag flown in bright sunlight for many years will eventually fade and need to be replaced. So it is likely that these symbols of American achievement have been rendered blank, bleached white by the UV radiation of unfiltered sunlight on the lunar surface. Some of them may even have begun to physically disintegrate under the intense flux.
Maybe Chang’e 3 will just paint those white flags red.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:35 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


And don't it paint my white flags, don't it paint my white flags, don't it paint my white flags red.

I'm sorry
posted by Naberius at 9:46 AM on December 13, 2013


I heard a rumor that back during the Cold War, when the Soviets managed a particularly impressive technical achievement -- I think the story referred specifically to the successful landing of Mars 3, but I'm not sure about that -- some of the engineers at NASA sent their Russian counterparts a bottle of nice champagne by diplomatic pouch, presumably delivered by someone connected with the embassy.

I'm not sure if it's true, but I've always thought it was a nice story. It's something I'd like to be true. Whenever anyone manages something like landing on the Moon or another planet, or even just getting an object successfully out of Earth's atmosphere that isn't a weapon of some sort, it enriches all of us.

So I wish the Chinese luck and I hope that if they do get a person on the Moon, somebody at NASA sends them a couple of nice bottles of bubbly, one group of engineers to another.

Maybe a Veuve Clicquot '69. I hear it was a good year.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:51 AM on December 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe Chang’e 3 will just paint those white flags red.

China's been pretty clear that it will be sending people to the Moon. An unmanned sample return mission is planned for 2017, a large space station in 202 and then a manned landing around 2025. It's no secret they're interested in exploring space and exploiting it for resources.

It remains to be seen what those political and military implications are. Me, I'm just excited at the prospect of high resolution photos and videos of the lunar surface with modern equipment.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:01 AM on December 13, 2013


It would be pretty funny if they drew a big X on one of the flags that is already there, with CHINA ROOLZ US DROOLZ or similar. Ideally this will escalate into an exchange of moon pranks.
posted by elizardbits at 10:02 AM on December 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Its like the ultimate Slobs vs Snobs movie.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:24 AM on December 13, 2013


It would be great if NASA tried to work with the Chinese to bring back parts from one of the Apollo landing sites. Photos would of course be mandatory.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:25 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I read a while back about how NASA was working on coming up with plans to handle future visits to the original Apollo sites. Even a rover at a decent distance could kick up enough dust to, I don't know if contaminate is the right word, but potentially mess the site up a bit.

I'd guess if the Chinese came anywhere near an Apollo site it wouldn't go over very well here. Not that there's any danger of them doing that with this rover.

Which is too bad, because I would love nothing more than for a rover to drive up to some of those sites and check them out after all these years. Maybe we could give 'em the site of Apollo 14. Not the first, nor the best. No rover. Nothing that would really matter if a bit of dust got on it. Just a wheelbarrow and a couple of golf balls.
posted by bondcliff at 10:33 AM on December 13, 2013


Oh how lovely. The moon is just the best, if you haven't been you MUST go. Stop by the Sea of Tranquility if you can, you'll understand how it got its name. Pictures just don't do it justice. But I wouldn't bother getting photos with the flag, it's just too done. And to be honest the food isn't the greatest, but it's no worse than Cuba. Oh you'll have a great time!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:50 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


would a quadcopter be able to work on the moon?
posted by rebent at 10:54 AM on December 13, 2013


Oh noes! China is doing this as a precursor to turning the Moon into a Chinese Missile Base! Of course the United States would never consider putting an American Missile Base on the Moon. (Warning, big ass pdf) Fuck it, just blow up the Moon.
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


So it is likely that these symbols of American achievement have been rendered blank, bleached white by the UV radiation of unfiltered sunlight on the lunar surface.

Just another example of how the US has surrendered to the Chinese.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:56 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quadcopters... in... SPAAAAAACE!
posted by XMLicious at 11:01 AM on December 13, 2013


A traditional quadcopter would not work on the Moon because there is no atmosphere on the moon. If you modified a quadcopter to use nitrogen jets (for example) instead of rotor blades it could work, but then it wouldn't be a quadcopter.
posted by Rob Rockets at 11:07 AM on December 13, 2013


So... a hexacopter?
posted by bondcliff at 11:12 AM on December 13, 2013


If they really wanted to be dicks they could always land their gear right on top of the mirrors used for distance measurements.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:18 AM on December 13, 2013


Baby steps.
posted by Atreides at 11:19 AM on December 13, 2013


If they really wanted to be dicks they could always land their gear right on top of the mirrors used for distance measurements.

It's interesting how many people in the Western world frame this as some sort of race or war between the two countries. I don't think China cares too much about the US is doing on this front, they have clear plans of their own.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:37 AM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rob Rockets: That seems extra-absurd. I fail to see the logic of putting a missile space at the bottom of a different gravity well. Plus the whole "A MISSILE IS COMING RIGHT AT YOU. IT'LL BE HERE LATER THIS WEEK." delays. Lagrange points would make a little bit more sense if you want to have, say, some kind of deadman switch "if you blow us up, we'll nuke the fuck out of you in a couple of days" program, but still.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:56 AM on December 13, 2013


That seems extra-absurd. I fail to see the logic of putting a missile space at the bottom of a different gravity well.

It's always good to have offsite backups, especially if the other person doesn't.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:24 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The rail gun goes right there, using the angle of the crater's inner rim to get the approximate angle. They will use this to launch (big rocks) scientific samples to Earth (to scare the piss...) for scientific analysis.

But anyhow, yeah, send picts. I love picts. I want to see the solar-powered flyers on Mars.... big, slow-turning blades, a couple of hi-def cameras on each end. Strauss waltzes in stereo...from Olympus to Marinarus, the new Google drive-by.
posted by mule98J at 12:24 PM on December 13, 2013


the moon landing was always a given, happening over a decade before I was born

GET OFF MY LAWN REGOLITH
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 12:42 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Its like the ultimate Slobs vs Snobs movie.

Yangs vs. Coms?
posted by The Tensor at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


It would be great if NASA tried to work with the Chinese to bring back parts from one of the Apollo landing sites. Photos would of course be mandatory.

Ideally, a piece of Surveyor 3, which is very close to Apollo 12. The Apollo 12 crew already brought back a piece after three years exposure on the lunar surface, we'd be able to compare the same material over time.
posted by eriko at 1:04 PM on December 13, 2013


Yeah, so, while you're on the Moon could you run an errand for me...

I've got an even better idea: let's invent a portable still that works off of hard vacuum and have them lug it up there, along with some sort of Soviet-Луна-style sample return mechanism, then we could have moonshine literally made on the Moon!
posted by XMLicious at 1:15 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You gotta kill that horizontal velocity before dropping down for a landing, then fire rockets a few seconds before landing to brake. Put extra landing legs on, so to cushion the impact.

Also, make sure your thrust to weight ratio is well above 1.7. You can land with a very low TWR, but it's very hard and requires a very different technique, one where you insert into a *very* low orbit, and use pitch to control your altitude while the horizontal velocity drops, once low enough, you revert to the normal thrust controlling vertical velocity and pitch controlling the horizontal. It's a very dicey thing to do -- efficient of done right, but there are times when TWR is better to have than Isp, and at low altitude in a large gravity field is one of them. It is also a major pain to land in a specific spot with low TWR - your burns have to be perfect.

And with the Poodle having an Isp-vac of 390 and 200kN, there no reason not to carry power to Mün. Longer flights, the mass penalty of the Poodle hurts, but it's easy to get 3500m/s of ΔV into LKO, you've got mass to play with. The much lower gravity of Minimus and the higher Δv budget needed make those tiny and light 50 and 20kN engines more attractive.

My most recent stupid KSP trick - I hit Mün with a probe. Difficulty: only solid rocket boosters. Need 30m/s? Tough, you're getting 48m/s out of that pair of sepatrons that will fire when you hit space, like it or not.
posted by eriko at 1:23 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or yeah, that. On that note: KSP Tips and tricks you found out yourself.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:40 PM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "That last spacecraft to land on the Moon was the Soviet's Lunokhod 2, in 1973"

Which is as sad as hell.

bondcliff: " Even a rover at a decent distance could kick up enough dust to, I don't know if contaminate is the right word, but potentially mess the site up a bit."

Brief rough estimation: even if you could get the dust to reach 60 miles an hour (call it 27 m/s) and you shot it straight up the moon's gravity field of 1.6 m/s2 would only allow it to reach a height of 228m (IIRC my high school physics). I can't remember how to figure out max distance but even horizontal to the horizon that is only a 450m stand off distance; the max is going to be much less.

Brandon Blatcher: " I don't think China cares too much about the US is doing on this front, they have clear plans of their own."

It's pretty obvious the States have no interest in doing much of anything on the moon.
posted by Mitheral at 7:21 PM on December 13, 2013


I'm waiting for the "China makes first step towards smog-free moonbase" headline.
posted by Catblack at 8:46 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if it's true, but I've always thought it was a nice story. It's something I'd like to be true.

It's not the same as celebrating their achievements, but the plaque for the Fallen Astronaut sculpture left on the Moon lists Komarov, Patsayev, Volkov, and Dobrovolsky among the fallen.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:01 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which is as sad as hell.

The problem with landers is that if you put them in a boring spot, you don't get much data.

This is why everyone went orbital for a long while - to find the interesting spots. Rovers help some, but a rover sees on a tiny fraction of the planet, an orbiter sees the whole thing.

You don't think Curiosity was just lucky when it found proof of liquid water on Mars in the past? They had a good idea that there was something interesting to look there, that's why they landed there.
posted by eriko at 5:04 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why that sneaky little rabbit…!

Was in the car a few minutes ago and heard on NPR that Chang'e 3 has successfully landed on the Moon. Looking around the web, there's reports that the landing was moved up about two hours, which would fit time frame wise.

A few hours after the landing Yutu is supposed to roll away from the lander and they'll take pictures of each other, so look for that later today I guess.

Ah, CCTV live is also saying Chang'e 3 had successfully landed, so yay!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:28 AM on December 14, 2013


While Yutu is off roving around, the lander will also be doing experiments. It has a 150 mm astronomical on it, hooked up to ultraviolet cameras, so it can study the Earth and other bodies in the sky. The lander itself has a 12 month mission, compared to the 3 month mission of the rover Yutu.

The design for getting the rover off the lander is interesting, according to a CCTV animation. Yutu sits on top the lander. A ramp extends from the lander, which Yutu then rolls onto. Then the ramp is lowered, with Yutu on it, almost like an elevator, changing angles as it descends. Once on the ground, then Yutu rolls off the ramp.

There's a lot of national pride coming through through the CCTV broadcast. This is huge for them, particularly since they got it right on their first attempt.

Very few live shots from the Chinese equivalent of Mission Control. It's mostly talking heads and anchors describing what's going on.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on December 14, 2013


Here's animation and description of what's occurring as Chang'e 3 descended and landed.

They are getting data, including photos, back from the lander of its descent, so hopefully those will be posted.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:53 AM on December 14, 2013


There's a brief gif of part of the descent at collectspace.com The image quality, even at the small size, looks promising.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:13 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Go, Jade Rabbit!
posted by salix at 6:25 AM on December 14, 2013


The bunny has landed...

It's nice that the Chinese have enough technological sophistication and ambition to concoct their own fake moon landing.

Hollow earth, sheeple.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:31 AM on December 14, 2013


KSP fans may enjoy Kerbal in jokes about about the descent and landing. Favorite: "Nice MechJeb landing!"

Solar panels have been deployed, it'll take about 8 hours to charge up Yutu.

Here's an thorough description and animation of how Yutu will be deployed. It's a bit complicated.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:48 AM on December 14, 2013


CONGRATULATIONS CHINA!

Now Indua needs to step up it's game, as lets face it Iran is a bit crap to have a space race with.
posted by Artw at 6:58 AM on December 14, 2013


India's first orbiter to Mars is doing just fine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:02 AM on December 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


At this point I think it's mandatory to mention plucky little Uganda.

Don't leave Africa out, man.
posted by Mezentian at 2:09 PM on December 14, 2013


Finally, video of the landing!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:19 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


rmd1023: " I fail to see the logic of putting a missile space at the bottom of a different gravity well."

Nobody tell Bob Heinlein.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:10 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


China's Moon Rover Snaps a View of Earth We Haven't Seen in 40 Years
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on January 12 [1 favorite]


The Quadrantids and the Great Wall
posted by homunculus at 4:03 PM on January 12


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