Chang'e-3 began its descent from the lowest part of its orbit, some 15 km (9 miles) above the Moon's surface. During its descent to an altitude of 2 km (1.2 mi), deceleration reduced the 1.71 km/s (1.06 mi/s) orbital velocity of the Chang'e-3 to zero. At 2 km altitude, the automatic landing sequence cut in, setting Chang'e-3 on course for its landing in Sinus Iridum (Sea of Rainbows) without further control from Earth.
At an altitude of 100 meters (330 ft), the Chang'e-3 began to hover over the surface, building a map of ground conditions and landing obstacles. Hovering was planned to last up to 100 seconds, but actually only took about 20 seconds.