Jade Rabbit officially dead but lunar rover exceeded expectations

China’s lunar rover the Jade Rabbit has officially been declared dead, 31 months after it first touched down on the surface of the Moon, having exceeded its intended lifespan more than ten times.

The 140kg Jade Rabbit - aka Yutu in Chinese - was the first object soft-landed on the Moon since the final Apollo landing in 1976. It was also the first rover to operate on the Earth’s only natural satellite since the Soviet Lunokhod 2 ceased operations in 1973.

The venture was a massive success for China, making it only the third country in history to have successfully soft-landed an object on the lunar surface. Jade Rabbit reached the Moon on 14 December 2013 aboard the Chang'e 3 lander.

Although its mission was marred with problems, the rover far exceeded expectations, gathering a wealth of data about the Moon’s geology and evolution.

However, the mission was very nearly a fiasco. Chinese engineers feared they lost the rover after its second lunar night. It was speculated that due to some technical malfunction, the rover failed to move its solar panels into an insulating position ahead of the hibernation and the extremely cold conditions during the two-week lunar night subsequently damaged its internal circuits.

However, the ground control team managed to revive the rover, which remained operational with some limitations until 28 July.

With 972 operational days, Yutu surpassed the Soviet Lunokhod 1, which served for 322 days in 1970.

China plans to send another spacecraft to the Moon next year with the aim to collect samples and return them to Earth.

The majority of lunar rocks delivered to the Earth in the past come from the US-manned Apollo missions. Three small samples were delivered by the Soviet robotic Luna missions during the 1970s. No other country has accomplished the feat since.

Earlier this year, China said it would attempt to launch a human crew to the Moon by 2036.

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