Tag Archives: Moon

Test drone maps ice cave in Iceland

Engineers have tested a prototype lidar-equipped drone by flying it through a lava tube in Iceland and using it to automatically map the tube.

While a cave-exploring drone on Earth may use propellers, free-flying spacecraft exploring caves on the Moon, where there is practically no atmosphere, or in the thin air of high altitude lava tubes on Mars’ giant volcanoes, would have to use small thrusters. The mission of the terrestrial drone deployed at the Lofthellir Ice Cave focused on validating the idea of using a drone-equipped LiDAR to safely navigate and accurately map rock and ice inside a dark lava tube in the absence of GPS or any prior map.

Under a research contract with NASA, Astrobotic has developed a custom navigation software product, known as AstroNav, to give drones and small free-flying spacecraft the ability to autonomously explore and map subterranean environments. AstroNav employs both stereo vision and LiDAR, works without GPS or previously stored maps, and can operate in real-time while a novel environment is explored at a high rate of speed.

…”The Astrobotic drone and LiDAR performed exactly as we had hoped, and was able to help us map the Lofthellir Lava Tube in 3D within minutes” says Lee. “We now have a highly accurate model of the shape and dimensions of the cave, and of the configuration of its many rocky and icy features, such as rock falls, ice columns, and micro-glaciers.”

The concept is an excellent one, especially for exploring the caves and pits of Mars. This test however only checked out the lidar. A drone that could do this on either Mars or the Moon does not yet exist.

I have posted their video of the flight below the fold.

Note: Thanks to reader Eddie Willers for noting that I mistakenly located this research in Greenland, not Iceland. Post now corrected.
» Read more

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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 travels of Moon’s scarce surface water

An analysis of data from one of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (LRO) instruments have allowed scientists to map the movements of the scarce water on the lunar surface.

Up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles. More recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

…Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Then, molecules thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere, or “exosphere”, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface.

The quantities we are talking about here are very tiny. This will not be the water that future settlers will depend on. Instead, it will be those pockets of ice in the permanently shaded craters.

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Beresheet sends back first pictures

The privately-built Israeli lunar lander Beresheet has sent back its first pictures, taken on its way to the moon.

The picture, taken 37,600 km from Earth, shows the Israeli flag and the inscription with “Am Yisrael Hai” (the People of Israel Live) in Hebrew and the inscription “Small Country, Big Dreams” in English. The spacecraft was snapped as it passed over Australia, and the photograph was taken during a very slow rotation by Beresheet. The Israeli spacecraft, built in an IAI factory, is in an elliptical orbit around Earth – its greatest distance from Earth (the apogee) at this stage is some 131,000 kilometers.

While the press wants to trivialize this image by calling it a selfie, it was taken for very important engineering reasons. It demonstrates that the camera and the spacecraft’s pointing systems are working, exactly as planned.

Beresheet will continue to raise the apogee of its orbit until it enters the Moon’s gravitational sphere of influence, when it will then shift into lunar orbit.

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Beresheet successfully completes engine burn

After a computer issue prevented its last course correction, Beresheet, the Israeli private lunar probe, successfully completed that engine burn yesterday, raising its Earth orbit’s apogee to 81,000 miles, almost a third of the way to the Moon.

The Beresheet team has not explained exactly what went wrong with the computer earlier this week, or what they have done to fix the problem. All they said is that they have figured it out and worked around it.

The next engine burn to raise the orbit further will occur in about a week.

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Beresheet’s second engine burn stopped by computer reset

It appears that the second engine burn to raise the orbit of Israel’s privately built lunar lander, Beresheet, did not happen as planned because of an unexpected computer reboot.

In a statement Tuesday morning, SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) engineers said they were investigating the malfunction, but said that other than a known problem with the navigation system’s star tracker, the Beresheet’s systems were all functioning properly.

The maneuver was scheduled to take place Monday night, as the spacecraft passed near the Earth in an area where the Ramat Gan-based SpaceIL ground crew would not be in direct communication with the craft.

During the pre-maneuver phase, the spacecraft computer reset unexpectedly, and the maneuver was automatically cancelled.

The question that immediately comes to mind: Did they purchase a space-hardened computer? Cosmic rays can wreck havoc on computer memory, causing just this type of unexpected reset, so computers in space need to be much better shielded than on Earth.

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Israeli lunar lander deploys legs

Capitalism in space: The Israeli lunar lander Beresheet, now beginning its circuitous journey to the Moon, has established communications with the Earth while deploying its landing legs.

There does appear to be an issue with the spacecraft’s star trackers, but it is not clear how critical this is.

Beresheet, by the way, means “In the beginning” in Hebrew.

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SpaceX successfully launches three satellites

Capitalism in space: SpaceX tonight used its Falcon 9 rocket, including a first stage that had already flown twice before, to launch an Indonesian communications satellite, an Air Force smallsat, and most importantly, the Israeli-built Beresheet lunar lander, the first planetary mission entirely funded from private sources.

You can get some details about Beresheet here. If all goes as planned, it will land on the Moon on April 11 and operate for two Earth days on the surface.

SpaceX was also able to successfully land that first stage, which I think is the first time they have successfully used and recovered a first stage three times. Look for this first stage to fly a fourth time.

The 2019 launch race:

2 China
2 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 Japan
1 India
1 Europe
1 Russia

The U.S. now leads China in the national rankings, 3-2.

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NASA selects experiments it wants to put on commercial lunar spacecraft

Capitalism in space: NASA has selected a dozen experiments/instruments it wants to put on private commercial lunar spacecraft, either landers or rovers.

According to the press release, some of these could fly as early as before the end of this year. If so, I suspect they will go on one of the finalists for the Google Lunar X-prize, some of whom are planning to fly this year.

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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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NASA to put humans on the Moon soon!

Wanna bet? According to NASA officials, the agency is accelerating its manned effort and expects to return to the Moon with humans by 2028 at the latest!

Jim Bridenstine, NASA’s administrator, told reporters Thursday that the agency plans to speed up plans backed by President Donald Trump to return to the moon, using private companies.

“It’s important that we get back to the moon as fast as possible,” said Bridenstine in a meeting at NASA’s Washington headquarters, adding he hoped to have astronauts back there by 2028.

“This time, when we go to the Moon, we’re actually going to stay. We’re not going to leave flags and footprints and then come home to not go back for another 50 years” he said.

Why does this announcement remind me of similar enthusiastic predictions made by Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, all of which have never come true? In fact, why does Bridenstine’s prediction remind me of many past NASA predictions since the 1980s, all of which either never happened, or happened decades behind schedule and in a manner that was far from grand?

If NASA is the agency to run this program, this prediction will not happen, period. For NASA to get back to the Moon by 2028 would require them to somehow build Gateway (which Bridenstine labels as a key component in this program) while also accelerating the launch schedule of SLS, a rocket NASA has spent fifteen years building that it doesn’t expect to launch for at least two more years, and will not put humans on it until 2024, at the earliest.

Gateway has not even been funded. It provides no way to get to the lunar surface. If it is funded it will cost billions, and likely take as long to build as SLS. SLS itself is expensive, unwieldy, and incapable of providing launch services for such an ambitious program.

Bridenstine’s announcement though did contain a ray of hope. He and his associates made a big deal about how they wish to hire many different private companies to achieve their goals. If the agency gets out of the way and lets free Americans do the job, then maybe it will happen.

We shall see. NASA’s track record when it comes to letting privately-built manned commercial spacecraft do the job is dismal, and that’s being kind.

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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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Chinese cubesat snaps picture of Earth and Moon from deep space

The Moon and Earth

A interplanetary cubesat, Longjiang-2, launched with China’s communications relay satellite that they are using to communicate with Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 on the far side of the Moon, has successfully taken a picture of both the Moon and Earth, as shown in the picture on the right.

Longjiang-2 is confirming what the MarCo cubesats proved from Mars, that cubesats can do interplanetary work.

And the picture is cool also. This was taken on February 3, when the entire face of the Moon’s far side is facing the Sun, illuminating it all. This timing also meant that the globe of the Earth would be entirely lit.

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Plato Crater on the Moon

Plato Crater's west rim

Cool image time! The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team this week released a new high resolution image of the western rim of 63-mile-wide Plato Crater, located near the visible edge of the Moon’s near side. On the right is a slightly reduced version cropped to show the area of most interest.

Plato crater is prominent, yet from our vantage point on Earth we never truly see it as it is. That’s because it is located far enough north of the lunar equator (center latitude 51.62°N, center longitude 350.62°E) on the curving surface of the spherical Moon that it appears foreshortened. Plato is round like most other impact craters, but from Earth we see it as an oval aligned east to west.

A dark floor makes 101-kilometer-wide Plato crater stand out against a light-colored lunar highlands background. Plato crater is also prominent by association; the crater is located just north of 1145-kilometer-wide Mare Imbrium. A small part of this mare is visible at lower left in our Featured Image. Mare Imbrium is made up of many basalt layers laid down by violent volcanic episodes over a span of about 1.5 billion years. The basalts fill the Imbrium Basin, which a large asteroid or comet impact excavated about 3.85 billion years ago. When we look at a bright full Moon, round dark Mare Imbrium captures our gaze, then we see Plato crater, which is estimated to be about a hundred million years younger than the Imbrium Basin.

The western rim of Plato crater — visible on the east (right) side of our Featured Image — includes a 23.4-kilometer-wide slump block. The roughly triangular piece of rim broke free when an asteroid impact excavated Plato crater. Its eastern edge stands up to 1.4 kilometers above the crater’s dark floor. Part of the floor is visible in the image just above right center, east of the long shadow of the rim. [emphasis mine]

That block is thus 14.5 miles wide, and almost a mile high. I am trying to imagine what it was like when it broke off the rim and fell eastward into the crater floor. I am having trouble doing so.

Below is a image of the entire crater, with the area of the image above indicated by a white box. It shows clearly how this crater splashed into the basalt lava plain of Mare Imbrium.
» Read more

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Rock from Earth, found on Moon?

The uncertainty of science: Scientists studying rocks brought back by the Apollo 14 lunar mission have concluded that one sample originally came from the Earth, and if so would be the oldest known Earth rock.

It is possible that the sample is not of terrestrial origin, but instead crystallized on the Moon, however, that would require conditions never before inferred from lunar samples. It would require the sample to have formed at tremendous depths, in the lunar mantle, where very different rock compositions are anticipated. Therefore, the simplest interpretation is that the sample came from Earth.

The team’s analyses are providing additional details about the sample’s history. The rock crystallized about 20 kilometers beneath Earth’s surface 4.0-4.1 billion years ago. It was then excavated by one or more large impact events and launched into cis-lunar space. Previous work by the team showed that impacting asteroids at that time were producing craters thousands of kilometers in diameter on Earth, sufficiently large to bring material from those depths to the surface. Once the sample reached the lunar surface, it was affected by several other impact events, one of which partially melted it 3.9 billion years ago, and which probably buried it beneath the surface. The sample is therefore a relic of an intense period of bombardment that shaped the Solar System during the first billion years. After that period, the Moon was affected by smaller and less frequent impact events. The final impact event to affect this sample occurred about 26 million years ago, when an impacting asteroid hit the Moon, producing the small 340 meter-diameter Cone Crater, and excavating the sample back onto the lunar surface where astronauts collected it almost exactly 48 years ago (January 31–February 6, 1971).

The scientists also admit that their conclusion is controversial and will be disputed. If true, however, it suggests that there is significant material on the Moon from the early Earth that can provide a window into parts our planet’s history that are presently inaccessible.

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Moon hit by small meteorite during eclipse

During the lunar eclipse two days ago on January 20, 2018 amateur astronomers were able to record the impact of a small meteorite.

The MIDAS survey is a Moon-watching that scours video of its surface in the hopes of detecting the tiny flashes associated with meteorite impacts. In this case, MIDAS scored a home run, and it was the first time the system was able to spot an impact during a total lunar eclipse.

“In total I spent almost two days without sleeping, including the monitoring time during the eclipse,” [Jose] Madiedo explained to Gizmodo. “I was exhausted when the eclipse ended—but when the automatic detection software notified me of a bright flash, I jumped out of my chair. It was a very exciting moment because I knew such a thing had never been recorded before.”

The meteorite itself wasn’t terribly large, and is estimated to have only been around 22 pounds.

I have embedded the video of the impact below the fold. It is very short, and the flash is not very impressive, but it still is quite cool.
» Read more

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Planetary rover update: January 22, 2019

Summary: Curiosity begins journey off of Vera Rubin Ridge. Opportunity’s silence is now more than seven months long, with new dust storms arriving. Yutu-2 begins roving the Moon’s far side.

Before providing today’s update, I have decided to provide links to all the updates that have taken place since I provided a full list in my February 8, 2018 update. As I noted then, this allows my new readers to catch up and have a better understanding of where each rover is, where each is heading, and what fascinating things they have seen in the past few years.

These updates began when I decided to figure out the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, which resulted in my March 2016 post, Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater. Then, when Curiosity started to travel through the fascinating and rough Murray Buttes terrain in the summer of 2016, I stated to post regular updates. To understand the press releases from NASA on the rover’s discoveries it is really necessary to understand the larger picture, which is what these updates provide. Soon, I added Opportunity to the updates, with the larger context of its recent travels along the rim of Endeavour Crater explained in my May 15, 2017 rover update.

Now an update of what has happened since November!
» Read more

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Update on Chang’e-4 plant experiments

Link here. It appears the plant experiment has now run its course, designed as it was to end before the arrival of the first lunar night.

The experiment’s chief designer, Xie Gengxin of Chongqing University, told Xinhua that life inside the canister would not survive the lander’s first lunar night, which started on Sunday. The moon’s nighttime period lasts for about two Earth weeks.

It also appears that though the plant experiment included potato, cotton, and oilseed rape, only the cotton seeds spouted. China has only released a limited amount of information about this research, so to get further details we will likely have to wait for the published papers.

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Seeds sprout on Chang’e-4

The new colonial movement: The cotten seeds in a plant experiment on Chang’e-4 have now sprouted, becoming the first biological life to grow on the Moon.

On Tuesday, Chinese state media said the cotton seeds had now grown buds. The ruling Communist Party’s official mouthpiece the People’s Daily tweeted an image of the sprouted seed, saying it marked “the completion of humankind’s first biological experiment on the Moon”.

Fred Watson, Australian Astronomical Observatory’s astronomer-at-large, told the BBC the development was “good news”. “It suggests that there might not be insurmountable problems for astronauts in future trying to grow their own crops on the moon in a controlled environment. …I think there’s certainly a great deal of interest in using the Moon as staging post, particularly for flights to Mars, because it’s relatively near the Earth,” Mr Watson said.

Prof Xie Gengxin, the experiment’s chief designer, was quoted as saying in the South China Morning Post: “We have given consideration to future survival in space. Learning about these plants’ growth in a low-gravity environment would allow us to lay the foundation for our future establishment of space base.” He said cotton could eventually be used for clothing while the potatoes could be a food source for astronauts and the rapeseed for oil.

This experiment is actually a very big deal, as it is the first biological experiment, ever, to take place in a low gravity environment. All previous plant experiments in space have taken place in zero gravity, and thus failed to tell us anything about growth in a partial Earth gravity environment.

That the seeds have sprouted only tells us that they can. What we don’t know yet is if the low lunar gravity distorts their growth.

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LRO pinpoints Chang’e-4 landing site

LRO pinpointing Chang'e-4's location on Moon

By referencing the footage released by China of Chang’e-4’s descent onto the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) team has been able to pinpoint exactly where the lander touched down. The image on the right has been reduced slightly. Click on it to see it in full resolution.

The largest nearby crater to the lander is estimated to be about 80 feet across.

Because the images were in December 2018 before the lander’s arrival, they do not show it. However, the LRO team now knows exactly where to look when they take new pictures in the next few weeks. Moreover, this will allow them to monitor Yutu-2’s travels as it roves the surface over the coming months.

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Chandrayaan-2 launch now scheduled for mid-April

The new colonial movement: India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander/rover mission to the south pole region of the Moon has now been re-scheduled for mid-April.

The launch date had to be pushed from the initially scheduled January-February window, as a few related tests could not be completed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Isro chairman K Sivan told the media on Friday that the next available slot is during March-April, and the launch could take place by mid-April. However, if this window is passed, the prestigious mission will have to be pushed again to June.

The article also suggests that they have made some changes to the mission’s flight plan.

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Want to see a panorama of Chang’e-4 landing site? You can!

If you want a really good look at the Chang’e-4 landing site on the far side of the Moon — with Yutu-2 about thirty feet away — photographer Andrew Bodrov has produced a spectacular 360 degree panorama from images sent down by the lander.

This panorama reveals two things. First, the lander landed close to two small craters, which it thankfully missed. Second, there are some hills in the distance which I suspect are central peaks of Von Kármán crater. They are probably beyond Yutu-2’s range, but would make a worthwhile exploratory target.

Meanwhile, the rover and lander have come back to life after a brief hibernation to protect them from the heat of the lunar mid-day.

Finally, China has released a video showing Chang’e-4’s descent and landing, which I have embedded below the fold. In it, you can see the spacecraft computer maneuver to land between those two craters shown in the panorama.
» Read more

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Using LRO to find Chang’e-4

LRO image of Chang'e-4 landing area

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) science team has released a high resolution image from 2010 pinpointing the area on the floor of Von Kármán crater where Chang’e-4 landed. On the right is a reduced and partly annotated version.

They have not actually found the lander/rover, since this image was taken long ago before Chang’e-4 arrived. However, this image, combined with the Chang’e-4 landing approach image, tells us where the lander approximately landed. It also pinpoints where to look for it when LRO is next able to image this region, around the end of January.

By then, Yutu-2 will hopefully have traveled some distance from Chang’e-4, and LRO will be able to spot both on the surface.

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Yutu-2 has rolled out and has begun roving

The new colonial movement: China’s second lunar rover, Yutu-2, has rolled off of the Chang’e-4 lander and begun its roving.

Yutu will rove within Von Kármán craterand analyse the variations of composition of the lunar surface the Visible and Near-Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (VNIS), while also returning unprecedented images with a panchromatic camera.

The rover’s two offer science payloads, the Lunar Penetrating Radar (LPR) and Advanced Small Analyser for Neutrals (ASAN), the latter developed by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, will provide insight into the lunar subsurface to a potential depths of hundreds of metres and the space environment and interactions with the surface respectively.

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India delays launch of Chandrayaan-2

India announced today that it is delaying the January 3, 2019 launch of its second lunar mission, the lander/rover Chandrayaan-2.

They have not announced a new launch date. Nor did they explain the cause of the delay. My suspicion is that K. Sivan, the head of their space agency ISRO, was not happy about some engineering issue, and demanded a review.

Unlike most such administrators, Sivan is an actual engineer who helped design and build India’s two rockets, the PSLV and GSLV. Last year, after the failure of one Indian satellite already in orbit, he recalled another Indian satellite from French Guiana only weeks before launch, had it brought back to India for a careful inspection to make sure it did not have the same problem. The move saved the satellite.

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Chang’e-4 successfully lands on far side of Moon

The new colonial movement: China’s Chang’e-4 lander/rover has successfully landed on far side of Moon.

Early reports of a successful landing sparked confusion after state-run media China Daily and CGTN deleted tweets celebrating the mission. China Daily’s tweet said: ‘“China’s Chang’e 4 landed on the moon’s far side, inaugurating a new chapter in mankind’s lunar exploration history.”

Official confirmation of the landing came two hours later via state broadcaster CCTV, which said the lunar explorer had touched down at 10.26am (2.26am GMT). The Communist party-owned Global Times also said the probe had “successfully made the first-ever soft landing” on the far side of the moon.

No reason has been given for the deletion of the tweets, though I suspect they did so because they were simply premature.

Update: More information here, including images.

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Engineers adjust Chang’e-4’s orbit

The new colonial movement: Engineers have adjusted Chang’e-4’s lunar orbit in preparation for landing.on the Moon’s far side.

The probe has entered an elliptical lunar orbit, with the perilune at about 15 km and the apolune at about 100 km, at 8:55 a.m. Beijing Time, said CNSA.

Since the Chang’e-4 entered the lunar orbit on Dec. 12, the ground control center in Beijing has trimmed the probe’s orbit twice and tested the communication link between the probe and the relay satellite Queqiao, or Magpie Bridge, which is operating in the halo orbit around the second Lagrangian (L2) point of the earth-moon system.

The space engineers also checked the imaging instruments and ranging detectors on the probe to prepare for the landing.

They need to time the landing so that it comes down in the Moon’s early morning. This will not only provide better visuals, with shadows to see surface details, but more importantly will give them 14 Earth days before sunset to get settled on the surface and initiate rover operations.

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