NASA Moon Orbiter to Image China’s Lander/Rover

December 16th, 2013

China's Yutu moon rover makes first tracks on the lunar surface. Credit: CNSA

China's Chang'e 3 lander is probably in, or very near, the smallest box shown in this photo. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Previously taken NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images of the area in which China’s Chang’e 3 landed on the Moon December 14 have been matched up with descent images acquired by the Chang’e 3 lander as it dove down onto the lunar surface.

According to imaging experts, the Chinese lander is probably in, or very near, the smallest box shown in the photo above.

Using LRO’s powerful Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) repeat imaging will be carried out of the Chang’e 3 landing site and movement of China’s now-deployed Yutu moon rover.

“LRO will next be above central Mare Imbrium on December 24 and 25, and LROC will image the Chang’e-3 landing site,” said Mark Robinson of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. He is the LROC Principal Investigator on the NASA moon orbiter.

It appears the Chinese lander came to rest within the Bay of Rainbows just to the east of a 1,476 feet (450 meter) diameter crater, Robinson reported.

Launched in June 2009, NASA’s LRO has been conducting science activities and retuning unique results on the lunar exosphere. The spacecraft also has returned a treasure trove of unprecedented images of the lunar surface.

Lighting conditions

LRO’s LROC will be able to image the Chinese lander and rover at approximately 2 meter per pixel resolution on a monthly basis as the rotation of the Moon brings the landing site underneath the LRO orbit plane.

According to NASA, repeated imaging of the landing site by LROC will allow for detailed measurements of changes to the surface caused by the landing and movement of the Chang’e 3 rover.

LROC can image the surface to identify changes caused by Chang’e 3’s descent engine, similar to what has been observed from previous lunar landers.

Lighting conditions on the Moon to image the Chinese lander and rover will improve in later months.

Launched in June 2009, LRO will continue to send back lunar data until October 2014, with the possibility of an additional two years.

LRO is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt Md.

By Leonard David