Chinese moon lander picture taken by AI


The picture of China’s Chang’e-6 mission lander from the far side of the Moon was taken by an autonomous mini-rover, according to the Chinese media.

The 5kg (11lb) four-wheeler was released from the lander’s side following a sample collection earlier this week and used artificial intelligence software to find the “best” angle for the picture, according to the state-owned China Space Daily.

The rover, also known as an autonomous intelligent mini-robot, adjusted the image composition before capturing the historic moment from a third-person view. It then sent the image back to Earth in a fully automated manner, the report said.

The tracks of the rover can be seen on the bottom right of the picture released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA). The lander, its solar panels, and a robotic arm, as well as an ascent vehicle on top of it and a small flag of China on the side, are at the center of the image.

If the robot was autonomous and made choices based on input data from cameras, then it would mark the first use of artificial intelligence on a lunar rover, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

The report said it is not clear how many images the rover had taken or whether it survived long enough to photograph the take-off of the ascent vehicle with samples on board. It was not equipped with thermal control devices.

The rover’s main task was to take pictures and test autonomous technologies that could be crucial for future deep space exploration missions.

The mini robot is much smaller than its predecessors, such as Yutu-1 and Yutu-2, both of which weighed as much as two adults, but its advanced autonomous capabilities are a “testament to the team’s breakthroughs in artificial intelligence,” China Space Daily said.

The Chang’e-6 mission is the first to retrieve rocks from the Moon’s far side. All previous samples collected during the American, Soviet, and earlier Chinese missions were from its near side.

The 53-day mission is expected to end later in June when Chang’e-6 is scheduled to touch down in China’s northern region of Inner Mongolia. According to the Chinese authorities, the mission’s ascender docked with the orbiter above the Moon on June 6th and transferred the lunar samples it collected to a return model.

China is already planning Chang’e-7 and Chang’e-8 missions, which will include the more complex lunar probes. Beijing is also aiming to start construction of a small lunar base in 2028.