The Zhurong rover is part of China’s flagship Tianwen-1 mission to Mars. After five rovers from the United States, Zhurong is the sixth to operate on the Martian surface. NASA’s Perseverance rover and the Curiosity rover are now investigating the inhospitable planet in search of clues of ancient microbial life under the surface. On Mars, the three rovers are separated by thousands of kilometres. As of January 31, the rover had travelled over 1500 kilometres and had long exceeded its predicted lifespan.
Launch of the Zhurong rover
The Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which carried the mission’s three primary instruments, the Mars orbiter, lander and the Zhurong rover, was launched on July 23, 2020, and put into Martian orbit on February 10, 2021. After the Soviet Union and the United States, China became the third country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on Mars and establish communications from the surface on May 14, 2021, with the lander carrying the rover. (More on China’s Mars mission Tianwen-1 here.)
Landing of the Zhurong rover
Aside from the rover, the lander carried a Mars Emergency Beacon, which was meant to endure the force of a catastrophic impact. The beacon would have allowed for the collection of crucial engineering data that would have aided future design. Like the orbiter, the lander carried the Chinese flag and mascots for the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. The lander and rover accomplished a successful soft landing on the Utopia Planitia after a violent Mars atmospheric entry that lasted about nine minutes. They used a mix of aeroshell, parachute, and retrorockets. The Utopia Planitia was chosen as the rover’s landing site because it was recommended by the crew due to its appropriate topography and weather for a landing, as well as the possibility of discovering proofs of an old ocean on Mars’ northern reaches. The Zhurong, named after a mythological Chinese fire deity, landed a few months after NASA’s newest Mars mission, Perseverance, and has been hailed as a success in China.
How successful was the Zhurong rover? What are its last know updates?
The rover has already worked for more than 255 days on Mars, far beyond its projected 90-day lifespan. It analysed numerous wind-formed sand dune formations with its surface composition detectors, multi-spectral cameras, and other research payloads. Since then, the solar-powered rover has been moving south of the landing site. Zhurong’s excursions up to July 21, totaling 66 Mars days, or sols, were charted by the CNSA. The voyage has been tracked by Zhurong’s parent orbiter, Tianwen-1, as well as NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Zhurong had officially finished its intended exploratory missions as of August 15, 2021, and will now continue driving towards the southern section of Utopia Planitia, where it landed.
The rover was last known to have traversed roughly 1500 metres of the Martian surface as of December 31, 2021. Despite the fact that the rover’s lifespan has expired, it may still traverse the Martian surface and relay data to the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter until its capabilities are no longer functional. Due to a solar conjunction in December 2020 that put the rover in safe mode, it was impossible to maintain connection with it. The rover, however, is back in work and safe to continue exploring, according to the latest reports.
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