China's Lunar Rover Yutu: Not Dead Yet

Just one day after being declared officially dead, Jade Rabbit has suddenly sprung back to life, transmitting a downlink signal to mission controllers back home on Earth. But while the rover may not be completely lost, it's still not clear if it's functional enough to continue the mission.

Details are vague. Here's the entire release from the Chinese news agency, Zinhua:

China's moon rover Yutu has waken up from a troubled dormancy although experts are still trying to figure out the cause of its abnormality, a spokesman with the country's lunar probe program said on Thursday.

"Yutu has come back to life!" said Pei Zhaoyu, the spokesperson.

Pei said the moon rover, named after the pet of a lunar goddess in ancient Chinese mythology, has now been restored to its normal signal reception function. But experts are still working to verify the causes of its mechanical control abnormality.

The abnormality emerged before Yutu entered its second dormancy on the moon on Jan. 25 as the lunar night fell.

"Yutu went into sleep under an abnormal status," Pei said , adding that experts were initially concerned that it might not be able to survive the extremely low temperatures during the lunar night.

"The rover stands a chance of being saved now that it is still alive," he said.

In addition to the CSNA's report, amateur monitors say they've also confirmed that Jade Rabbit, or Yutu, sent a downlink signal.

Sounds almost too good to be true. China's space agency is still not sure what caused the problem, but abrasive lunar dust is suspected.

Writing in Space Daily, Morris Jones is optimistic about what might happen next:

Let's consider what we know. If it is transmitting, then the batteries, communications gear and computers should be working reasonably well. This is a very good start. It is also probable that the rover will still have mobility. The wheels and associated gear were designed to be exposed to the lunar night and were not affected by the solar panel mishap.

So, it can transmit and it can probably drive. But can it do any work?

Some of the scientific instruments could still be functional, but it remains to be seen if they can still work well enough to produce trustworthy data. In any case, navigating the rover could be difficult if there is no camera to see the terrain. Chinese scientists could elect to drive the rover by dead reckoning, and guess its rough location.

Image: CSNA.