China's Jade Rabbit rover explores Moon soil

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China's Jade Rabbit Moon rover has completed its first examination of the lunar soil, state media claim.

The Beijing Aerospace Control Center said the rover had explored the surface using its mechanical arm on Tuesday night (Beijing time).

The survey lasted half an hour and official news service Xinhua said the rover performed well in the tests.

In December, the Chinese landing module and rover made the first "soft" landing on the Moon since 1976.

The mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise.

The lander will operate there for a year, while the rover is expected to work for about three months.

Chang'e-3 mission instruments

On the lander:

  • Optical ultraviolet telescope for astronomy
  • Ultraviolet camera to monitor space weather
  • Descent camera to monitor the landing

On the rover:

  • Two panoramic cameras
  • Engineering and navigation cameras
  • Arm-mounted alpha particle X-ray spectrometer to analyse chemical elements in rocks and soil
  • Infrared spectrometer to study minerals
  • Ground-penetrating radar to map the structure of lunar soil and crust down to several hundred feet

The operation tested the ability by ground stations to precisely control the robot over a distance of some 380,000km - one of those key technologies Chinese space scientists are keen to master.

Wu Fenglei, from the Beijing control centre, said it marked a "breakthrough in controlling a mechanical arm with high precision on the lunar surface".

At the weekend, the lander and rover "woke up" from a period of hibernation lasting two weeks - equivalent to one lunar night.

Both vehicles draw much of their power from solar arrays, which means they must conserve energy when darkness falls on their landing site.

Radioisotope heating units, powered by plutonium-238, keep the rover warm in the lunar night, during which temperatures can drop as low as -180C (-292F).

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