On Monday, China launched its moon rover mission – nicknamed “Jade Rabbit” – from Xichan space center in southern China, as reported by the BBC.
The rocket’s payload includes a landing module and a six-wheeled robotic rover called Jade Rabbit, or Yutu in Chinese. Landing should take place in the Moon’s northern hemisphere in mid-December.
The world could see live pictures of the launch of the Chinese-developed Long March 3B rocket, which was carrying the lunar probe.
Actually, this is the third rover mission to land on the moon’s surface, but this vehicle carries a more sophisticated payload. This includes ground-penetrating radar to gather measurements of the lunar soil and crust.
According to the Shanghai Aerospace Systems Engineering Research Institute, the Jade Rabbit rover – which weighs 120kg (260lb) – can climb slopes of up to 30 degrees and travel at 200m (660ft) per hour.
The unusual name of Jade Rabbit was chosen in an online poll of 3.4 million voters. It derives from an ancient Chinese myth about a rabbit living on the moon as the pet of the lunar goddess, Chang’e.
Details of the mission are very limited. We know that the rover and lander are powered by solar panels, but it is possible that they also carry radioisotope heating units (RHUs) containing plutonium-238 to keep them warm during the cold lunar night.
No humans have set foot on the lunar surface since America’s Apollo missions ended in 1972, and it seems that this is the true final objective of these Chinese efforts.
That would fit in with China’s growing assertiveness in other spheres – such as the recent arguments over control of the airspace over the East China Sea.
China thinks that its space program is a practical symbol of its rising global stature and technological advancement.
Following Jade Rabbit, there will be more lunar launches including a mission to bring back samples of lunar soil to Earth.
Professor Ouyang, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, sees opportunities for exploiting the Moon’s environment and natural resources. He has an ambitious plan to ring the Moon with solar panels to provide energy that could “support the whole world.”
He also pointed out that “The Moon is full of resources – mainly rare earth elements, titanium, and uranium, which the Earth is really short of, and these resources can be used without limitation.”
It seems that a lot is hanging on the success of one Jade Rabbit.