3 years after moon landing, China's Chang'e-3 is still alive
The lander, which set down on the Moon and deployed the Yutu lander on December 14, 2013, is now into its 38th lunar day operations after 'hibernating' during the latest lunar night.
The mission made China only the third country to soft-land on the Moon, following the United States and Soviet Union. It has also laid the groundwork for more ambitious projects.
Chang'e-3 has demonstrated the techniques and capabilities for soft-landing and long-term operation on the Moon, extreme environmental adaptability with lunar nights and days seeing temperatures ranging from -180 to +100 degrees Celsius).
The lander was designed to operate for one year on the lunar surface, but has surpassed expectations to extend to three years.
Chang'e-3 has also added to our understanding of our celestial neighbour, with results from the mission being published in top academic journals, including Nature and Science.
Above: The Chang'e-3 lander, imaged by Yutu's PCAM panoramic camera (CAS).
China's next steps in lunar exploration will be the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission, expected in late 2017, and an unprecedented landing on the far side of the Moon in late 2018, using the backups to the Chang'e-3 lander and rover.
China is also developing a comprehensive 20 year strategy for lunar and interplanetary exploration, including sending robotic probes to the Moon’s poles and potential human landings.
Above: A view of the far side of the Moon and the distant Earth, captured by the service module for the 2014 Chang’e 5-T1 test mission (CAS).
Latest Chang'e-3 science
A call to the State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), which released an update (Chinese) on the status of Chang'e-3, revealed that while the lander is operational, the focus of researchers working on the mission is on processing the data already returned into scientific results.
The next set of results will be released during China's annual parliamentary sessions in March 2017, a spokesperson said.
The lander has been busy this year, however. During its 35th lunar day on the moon's surface, the lander snapped 232 high quality images during a prenumbral lunar eclipse on September 16.
The images were taken by the lander's Lunar-based Ultraviolet Telescope (LUT), the only one of eight science payloads from the Chang'e-3 mission still working.
Above: An image of the Pinwheel galaxy captured earlier by the UV telescope on the Chang'e-3 lander (NAOC).
To see some of the work the lander and Yutu rover have been up to, visit China's own Planetary Data System, maintained by the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which allows people across the world to access and download data and stunning images from its lunar exploration missions.
The mission has been hailed as a major success for China, despite the Yutu rover losing the ability to move across the lunar surface shortly after landing.
It was widely reported in early August that the stricken lunar vehicle had died, before a follow-up prompted by Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society revealed that Yutu's status was 'hibernating' and could still possibly 'wake up' after the 14-Earth-day lunar night.
There have, however, been no updates on the status of the rover since the summer.
Above: Timelapse showing the Chang'e-3 landing site, lander and rover, as viewed by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University).