Tag Archives: China

China announces international experiments to fly on its space station

The new colonial movement: China and the UN today jointly announced the nine international experiments that China will fly on its own space station, set to be completed by 2022.

The nine projects involve 23 entities from 17 countries in the fields of aerospace medicine, space life sciences and biotechnology, microgravity physics and combustion science, astronomy and other emerging technologies.

It seems to me that the competition in space is definitely heating up. Both China and Indian now plan their own space stations. And the Trump administration’s announcement that it will allow private commercial and competitive operations on ISS, is certainly going to lead eventually to more than one private station in orbit, plus ISS.

The result is going to be many different stations, all offering different capabilities and all in competition to lower the cost to get there and to do research or to sightsee. All are also going to be contributing aggressively in learning how to build vessels that humans can live on for long periods, which in turn will teach us how to build interplanetary spaceships. In fact, every one of these stations will be prototypes for those interplanetary spaceships.

Isn’t competition wonderful? After almost thirty years of boring international cooperation on ISS, with little new achievement or innovation, the space station competition coming in the next decade will revitalize space exploration in ways we as yet cannot imagine.

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China tightens rules for its private space companies

China has released new rules governing the work of that country’s private space companies, tightening its control over them.

[The rules] require companies to obtain official permission before carrying out rocket research and development as well as production, according to a notice published on the web site of the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense on Monday.

The new rules also require a confidentiality system to be established among commercial rocket companies and asks them to follow state export control regulations when in doubt about whether they can provide overseas services and products.

These rules really only codify the control the government has always had over Chinese private companies.

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China completes first launch from ocean launchpad

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed its first launch from ocean launchpad, placing seven satellites in orbit with its Long March 11 rocket.

I have embedded a short video of the launch below the fold. It appears they have adapted submarine ICBM engineering for this ocean launch. The rocket is propelled upward from the launchpad before its first stage engines fire.

The rocket:

The Long March-11 (Chang Zheng-11) is a small solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) with the goal to provide an easy to operate quick-reaction launch vehicle, that can remain in storage for long period and to provide a reliable launch on short notice.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

8 China
6 SpaceX
5 Russia
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 India

The U.S. leads China in the national rankings, 11 to 8.
» Read more

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 wake up for sixth lunar day

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover have been reactivated this week to begin observations during their sixth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the Chinese news source,

For the sixth lunar day, the lander’s neutron radiation detector and low-frequency radio detector will be restarted to conduct scientific tasks including particle radiation observation and low-frequency radio astronomical observation.

The rover’s panoramic camera, detection radar, infrared imaging spectrometer and neutral atom detector will be restarted during the sixth lunar day.

That’s about all we know. They have not released much information about the rover’s travels, nor have they released any detailed information about the data they have obtained.

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China has launch failure

A Chinese launch of a military satellite using a Long March 4C rocket failed today.

It appears the failure occurred with the third stage. This rocket is one of China’s smaller rockets, and is mostly used for polar launches of smaller satellites. It is likely therefore that the failure will not impact their planetary and manned programs, both of which depend on different and larger rockets.

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China launches GPS-type satellite

China yesterday launched another one of its Beidou GPS-type satellites using its Long March 3C rocket.

This is their fourth backup BeiDou placed in orbit, and the 45th total that has been launched.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

7 China
5 SpaceX
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 10 to 7 in the national rankings.

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Yutu-2 travels more than 600 feet during its fifth lunar day on the Moon

The Chinese press today revealed that during its fifth lunar day on the Moon’s far side China’s lunar rover Yutu-2 traveled about 623 feet.

Where exactly it went, and what it learned, they did not reveal. We will have to wait for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images to learn the rover’s route.

They have now put both Yutu-2 and the lander Chang’e-4 into sleep mode for the long lunar night.

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North Korea does second missile test in a week

North Korea today did its second short-range missile test in the past week.

They launched two missiles, each traveling about 260 miles.

This is clearly a negotiating tactic on their part. This spat of launches now might also have been encouraged by their sponsor, China, which is also in negotiations with the Trump administration about trade. China gains negotiating leverage with Trump in that it can say: Give us what we want and we will pressure North Korea to cease missile tests.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awaken for fifth lunar day

The new colonial movement: China’s lunar lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 have been awakened to begin work for their fifth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the report from this official Chinese government news source, Yutu-2 has now traveled just under 600 feet from the lander. We know from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images taken during the rover’s second lunar day of travel that it had moved to the west, but we don’t really know much else beyond that. LRO has not released any new images, and the Chinese have not told us.

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Two Chinese companies test reusable rocket technology

Link here.

One company, Space Transportation, tested on April 22 a design for launching its first stage vertically and then landinf it on a runway.

The joint flight was to test the performance of the dual waverider forebody configuration designed by Xiamen University’s School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and to verify the rocket recovery and reuse technology, according to Xinhua. The 8.7-meter-long Jiageng-1 has a wingspan of 2.5 meters and part of development of the larger, future Tianxing-I-1 vertical takeoff, horizontal landing reusable launch vehicle.

Beijing-based Space Transportation, founded in August 2018 and also known as Lingkong Tianxing, received backing worth several million U.S. dollars from Source Code Capital earlier this year. [emphasis mine]

The second company, Linkspace, did on April 19th a untethered vertical take off and landing of a small prototype first stage, getting about 130 feet off the ground.

The highlighted words above are intriguing. I did not think it was legal for American investors to invest in Chinese rocket companies.

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Long March 5B to launch first Chinese station module in 2020

The new colonial movement: China today announced that the launch of the first module for its space station will take place in the first half of 2020 on the maiden flight of its Long March 5B rocket.

China also announced today that they will launch Chang’e-5, their lunar sample return mission, by the end of this year, followed in 2020 by a Mars probe. Both launches will require use of the Long March 5.

The 5B appears to be a redesigned version of the 5, which has launched twice but failed on its second launch in 2017. Since then all launches of the Long March 5 ceased, with hints in the press that the failure occurred because the rocket’s first stage engines had badly underperformed and required a complete redesign. This redesign caused significant delays in the launch of Chang’e-5, China’s space station, and its Mars probe.

Today’s announcements suggest that that engine redesign is probably complete, and that they are now ready to resume Long March 5 launches, including the upgraded and revised 5B.

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China announces plans for asteroid/comet sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China today announced plans to fly an ambitious mission to both an asteroid and comet, which would also bring back a sample from the asteroid.

The current plan, which is still under discussion, calls for a probe to visit and collect samples from the small near-Earth asteroid 2016 HO3 (also known as Kamo’oalewa). “Then, the probe will fly back to the proximity of Earth, and a return capsule will be released to bring the samples back to Earth,” Xinhua reported today (April 18), citing a China National Space Administration official. “After that, the probe will continue its journey. With the assistance of the gravity of Earth and Mars, it will finally arrive at the main asteroid belt and orbit the Comet 133P to explore it.”

Both objects are unusual. The asteroid is in a strange solar orbit that almost makes it a moon of the Earth, while the comet appears to be a main-belt asteroid with comet-like activity.

The mission is not finalized yet, so expect some revisions.

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International payloads will fly on China’s Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission

The new colonial movement: China today announced that it is reserving space on its Chang’e-6 lunar sample return mission for international experiments.

The orbiter and lander of the Chang’e-6 mission will each reserve 10 kg for payloads, which will be selected from both domestic colleges, universities, private enterprises and foreign scientific research institutions, said Liu Jizhong, director of the China Lunar Exploration and Space Engineering Center of the CNSA, at a press conference.

I suspect that the majority of these experiments will be Chinese, but I am also sure that China will get at least one international partner.

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Rover update: April 11, 2019

Summary: Curiosity successfully drills into the clay unit. Yutu-2 continues its exploration on the far side of the Moon.

For the updates in 2018 go here. For a full list of updates before February 8, 2018, go here.

Curiosity drill hole in clay unit on slopes of Mount Sharp

Curiosity

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

The news this week from Curiosity is that the rover has successfully drilled into the ground in the clay unit valley the rover is presently exploring betweent Vera Rubin Ridge and Mount Sharp’s higher slopes.

The image to the right shows is a close-up of that drill hole.

The rover’s drill chewed easily through the rock, unlike some of the tougher targets it faced nearby on Vera Rubin Ridge. It was so soft, in fact, that the drill didn’t need to use its percussive technique, which is helpful for snagging samples from harder rock. This was the mission’s first sample obtained using only rotation of the drill bit.

Since my last rover update on February 20, 2019, they have been traveling for several weeks to get to a spot where they can do this drilling. The clay unit seems very soft, and almost mudlike, which made finding a good surface to drill somewhat challenging. Most of the terrain seemed too soft to drill into. It almost would be better to have a scoop, as the Viking landers had. Curiosity doesn’t really have this however. It needs to use its drill, which really is a more efficient way to get down deeper into the ground anyway.

The map below shows their recent travels.
» Read more

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Telescope store sues Asian telescope manufacturers for fixing prices

A San Francisco store that sells telescopes to the public is suing two Asian telescope manufacturers — who make almost all recreational telescopes sold in the U.S. — for conspiring together to fix prices and create that monopoly.

Orion Telescopes and Binoculars, which is headquartered in Watsonville and has stores there and in Cupertino, is seeking more than $180 million in damages in a lawsuit. A federal court in Northern California said the complaint against telescope maker Ningbo Sunny, filed in 2016, can go to trial. A subsidiary of Ningbo Sunny, a Chinese company, bought Irvine telescope maker Meade Instruments in 2013.

In the complaint, Orion alleges that Ningbo Sunny and a Taiwanese telescope manufacturer, Synta Technology, shared confidential information that competitors normally would not share, including product pricing, order forecasts and credit arrangements.

My question is this: Why are no American telescope manufacturers competing in this market? Are our labor costs too high? Our government regulations too restrictive? A little bit of competition could easily end this collusion by these Asian manufacturers, assuming it is happening.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 awake for fourth lunar day

The Chinese rover Yutu-2 and lander Chang’e-4 were awakened on March 30, 2019 to begin work for their fourth lunar day on the surface of the Moon’s far side.

The rover was designed to last for three lunar days, but much like NASA missions that regularly outlive their initial mandates, Yutu 2’s mission may stretch on longer, the Chinese space agency hopes. (The current rover’s predecessor, Yutu, lost its roving ability on its second day on the moon.)

The China Lunar Exploration Program, which heads up the mission, has not provided any details about its scientific plans for the fourth day of Chang’e 4, which is focused on exploring the far side of the moon and how it differs from the near side.

Based on the images taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it appears they will be heading west, following the smoothest route away from Chang’e-4. This will place Yutu-2 in an area of small craters.

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India claims it has successfully destroyed a satellite using an anti-sat missile

The new colonial movement: In a speech to his nation today, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that they have successfully completed their first anti-sat test, using a missile to destroy a satellite in low Earth orbit.

The Indian ASAT test is believed to have destroyed either the Microsat-R or the Microsat-TD satellite, likelier the former according to some sources. They were both built by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). ISRO launched the Microsat-R on January 24 this year and the Microsat-TD a year before that.

Prime Minister Modi declared the test, codenamed Mission Shakti, a success and claimed that an ASAT missile had destroyed the satellite in its low-Earth orbit.

The missile in question is described as a kinetic kill vehicle, which means it does not carry any explosives or other devices. Instead, its ‘kill’ capability arises simply from the fact that it smashes into the target satellite and shatters it using its kinetic energy.

At this altitude, about 300 km, experts said that debris from the collision would fall back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere in a matter of weeks instead of posing a threat to other satellites. As a result, Mission Shakti is called a controlled ASAT test.

What this anti-sat test really demonstrates is India’s ability to to hit a very tiny target that is moving more than 17,000 miles per hour with a missile shot from Earth, which proves they can hit any target on Earth, with great accuracy. And it thus a blunt message to both Pakistan and China. Don’t attack us, because if you do, we have the capability to do you great harm.

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OneSpace orbital launch fails

Capitalism in space? The first orbital launch attempt by China’s smallsat company OneSpace failed today.

No information about the cause of the failure or what happened has been released as yet.

I’m going to say this again: While OneSpace is financed through private capital, like a private company, it is also supervised closely by the Chinese government. It is hardly a private company as we in the West would define it.

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OneSpace to attempt first orbital launch this week

OneSpace, one of a bunch of companies in China attempting to launch smallsats, is expected to attempt its first orbital launch this week.

The article gives a nice overview of the present competition in China between several of these smallsat private companies, dubbed OneSpace, LandSpace, ISpace, and LinkSpace. All are funded through private investment capital, so all claim to be a private companies. However, nothing done in space in China is done without the approval and direction of the government. They might be designed as private companies, but they are also designed expressly to serve the needs of the Chinese government. That their company names are all so similar only strengthens this conclusion.

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Yutu-2 heads west!

LRO images of Yutu-2 on the Moon
Click for full image.

A new image from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) shows the path taken by the Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 during its second lunar day of travel on the Moon. The LRO images on the right, cropped and reduced in resolution to show here, compares the rovers position at the start and end of February. The white arrow indicates the rover, with its Chang’e-4 lander visible between the three craters to the east. As noted by the LRO science team:

LRO passes over any given place on the Moon at least once every month (in the daylight), allowing the westward progress of the Yutu-2 rover to be seen. At the end of February, Yutu-2 was 69 meters from it’s home base, the Chang’e 4 lander; LROC images show Yutu-2 made 46 meters of westward progress during the month of February.

It appears from these orbital images that they are taking the smoothest route, with the fewest obstacles, away from the lander.

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China’s future lunar exploration plans

In a poster presented on Tuesday at this week’s 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas, China outlined its future plans for lunar exploration.

Systematically considering the major scientific issues of the Moon and the lunar in-situ utilization resources, Chinese scientists and technical experts have proposed a vision to preliminarily build a research station on the Moon’s South Pole by implementing 3-4 missions before 2035.

The first mission will carry out a comprehensive exploration in the South Pole of the Moon, including the topography, elemental composition and volatile contents of the Moon, and the information on the structure of the South Pole from shallow to deep levels. Water (ice) in the permanent shadow area was detected in-situ to reveal the content, distribution and source of water and volatiles on the surface of the Moon. After that, a sampling return mission will be arranged to collect samples from the South Pole of the Moon and return them to the Earth. In addition to the scientific exploration of the Moon, the utilization of lunar resources should also be taken into consideration. In later missions, lunar platforms will be used to make astronomical or earth observations and to consider the use of lunar resources. [emphasis mine]

China clearly intends to put its footprints on the Moon. It is not fiddling around with an orbital lunar station, as it looks like we are with NASA’s Gateway project. While China explores the surface, we will be stuck in orbit (maybe).

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Chinese lunar rover and lander enter their third lunar night

The Chinese lunar rover Yutu-2 and its lander Chang’e-4 have gone into hibernation as they enter their third lunar night on the far side of the Moon.

According to Chinese news reports, both spacecraft have now exceeded their nominal lifespan.

With all systems and payloads operating well, the Yutu-2 team will continue roving and science data collection on lunar day 4 of the Chang’e-4 mission, according to a [Chinese] announcement.

Yutu-2 added 43 meters to its overall drive distance in its third day of activities, continuing a path to the northwest of the landing site, which was recently named ‘Statio Tianhe’ by the International Astronomical Union. The rover just covered seven meters between waking for lunar day 3 on Feb. 28 and Mar. 3, during which time it navigated carefully toward a 20 centimeter diameter rock in order to analyze the specimen with an infrared and visible light spectrometer to determine its origin.

I am struck by how tentative the Chinese and their rover appear. The first Russian lunar rover, Luna 17, traveled 6.5 miles in eleven months. The second, Luna 21, traveled 23 miles in four months. At the pace Yutu-2 is setting, it will not come close to these mileages. Moreover, my impression of Chinese space technology in the past decade has been that it is quite robust. This tentativeness thus surprises me. Maybe because this is a government project they are simply covering their butts should something go wrong, and thus making believe the rover is more delicate than it really is.

As Scotty on Star Trek once said, “Always under predict, then over perform.” We might be seeing that pattern here.

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The military components of China’s space effort

Link here. Key quote:

Beijing now has a goal of “[building] China into a space power in all respects.” Its rapidly growing space program—China is second only to the United States in the number of operational satellites—is a source of national pride and part of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” to establish a powerful and prosperous China. The space program supports both civil and military interests, including strengthening its science and technology sector, international relationships, and military modernization efforts. China seeks to achieve these goals rapidly through advances in the research and development of space systems and space-related technology.

China officially advocates for peaceful use of space, and it is pursuing agreements at the United Nations on the non weaponization of space. Nonetheless, China continues to improve its counterspace weapons capabilities and has enacted military reforms to better integrate cyberspace, space, and EW into joint military operations.

The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] views space superiority, the ability to control the information sphere, and denying adversaries the same as key components of conducting modern “informatized” wars. Since observing the U.S. military’s performance during the 1991 Gulf War, the PLA embarked on an effort to modernize weapon systems and update doctrine to place the focus on using and countering adversary information-enabled warfare.

What this report makes clear is that while China’s space program might have many visibly peaceful components, it is still tightly integrated with China’s military. Everything China does in space goes through the PLA.

We should also be aware that former managers of their space program are dominate throughout China’s entire political structure. Being a good manager in space has become the best route to gaining a powerful political position.

Both facts suggest that China’s space program will for the next few decades only grow in size and ambitions, for many military and nationalistic reasons. This also tells us that it is likely not a good idea to do any cooperative projects with them. They will not really be your partner, but will be using you to further their own ends, entirely.

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New LRO image of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2

Chang'e-4 and Yutu-2

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released its third and best image of the Chinese Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover. The image on the right is a full resolution cropped section, with the lander on the bottom and the rover above and to the left.

Just after midnight (UTC) on 1 February 2019 LRO passed nearly overhead the Chang’e 4 landing site. From an altitude of 82 kilometers the LROC Narrow Angle Camera pixel scale was 0.85 meters (33 inches), allowing a sharper view of the lander and Yutu-2 rover. At the time the rover was 29 meters northwest of the lander, but the rover has likely moved since the image was acquired. This view has close to the smallest pixel size possible in the current LRO orbit. In the future however, LROC will continue to image the site as the lighting changes and the rover roves!

These future LRO images will allow us to track Yutu-2 and get an idea of its research, even if the Chinese do not release any information.

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IAU approves China’s proposed names for Chang’e-4 landing site

That was fast! The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved all of the proposed names that China submitted for the features at or near Chang’e-4 landing site.

The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved the name Statio Tianhe for the landing site where the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e-4 touched down on 3 January this year, in the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon. The name Tianhe originates from the ancient Chinese name for the Milky Way, which was the sky river that separated Niulang and Zhinyu in the folk tale “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”.

Four other names for features near the landing site have also been approved. In keeping with the theme of the above-mentioned folk tale, three small craters that form a triangle around the landing site have been named Zhinyu, Hegu, and Tianjin, which correspond to characters in the tale. They are also names of ancient Chinese constellations from the time of the Han dynasty. The fifth approved name is Mons Tai, assigned to the central peak of the crater Von Kármán, in which the landing occurred. Mons Tai is named for Mount Tai, a mountain in Shandong, China, and is about 46 km to the northwest of the Chang’e-4 landing site.

Compare this fast action with the IAU’s approval process for the names the New Horizons team picked for both Pluto and Ultima Thule. It took the IAU more than two years to approve the Pluto names, and almost three years to approve the Charon names. It is now almost two months after New Horizons’ fly-by of Ultima Thule, and the IAU has not yet approved the team’s picks for that body.

Yet it is able to get China’s picks approved in less than a month? Though it is obviously possible that there is a simple and innocent explanation for the differences here, I think this illustrates well the biases of the IAU. Its membership does not like the United States, and works to stymie our achievements if it can. This factor played a part in the Pluto/planet fiasco. It played a part in its decision to rename Hubble’s Law. And according to my sources, it was part of the background negotiations in the naming of some lunar craters last year to honor the Apollo 8 astronauts.

The bottom line remains: The IAU has continually tried to expand its naming authority, when all it was originally asked to do was to coordinate the naming of distant astronomical objects. Now it claims it has the right to approve the naming of every boulder and rock anywhere in the universe. At some point the actual explorers are going to have to tell this organization to go jump in a lake.

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Chang’e-4 & Yutu-2 enter sleep mode for second lunar night

The Chinese lunar lander Chang’e-4 and its rover Yutu-2 have both gone into hibernation as part of their preparation for surviving their second night on the Moon’s surface.

The Yutu-2 rover and lander will resume science and exploration activities on Feb. 28 and March 1, respectively, according to the release, with the rover needing to unfold solar panels and dissipate heat.

The previous lunar night saw the Chang’e-4 lander record a temperature low of -190 degrees Celsius (-310 Fahrenheit), with measurements made possible by a Russian-developed radioisotope thermoelectric generator which also acts as a prototype for future deep-space exploration.

Official updates on the progress of the mission had been sparse during the second lunar day of operations, though some new images and footage were released ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, which ran from Feb. 4 to Feb. 10.

Yutu-2 has traveled about 400 feet so far.

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LRO spots Chinese lunar rover

Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 on far side of Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has now released a second and closer image of Chang’e-4’s location on the far side of the Moon, which now also shows the nearby rover Yutu-2.

The two arrows in the image to the right, cropped to post here, show both. The rover is the dot on the right, with the lander to the left, both just beyond the arrow tips. Both are very small, with Yutu-2 for example only two pixels across. Still, with both you can see their shadows, equally small, to the left of both bright dots. With sunlight coming from the right, all the craters, which are recessed, have their shadows on the right. The spacecraft, sticking up from the surface, have shadows going to the the left.

As Yutu-2 continues its travels, LRO will likely take more images, allowing us to track it even if the Chinese provide limited information.

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