What’s going on with China’s Zhurong rover? In May 2022, he fell into a planned “hibernation” on the Utopia Plain – a large plain that is located in the northern hemisphere of Mars. However, in December he had to wake up and continue his work. During this period, winter in the northern hemisphere ends, and sunlight becomes sufficient to power the apparatus. However, now there is enough reason to believe that the rover has not woken up, since its service life on Mars has ended. The Chinese space agency has not yet said anything at all about this, but the pictures taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have brought clarity to the situation.
China’s Zhurong rover crashed?
Zhurong is China’s first rover. We previously reported that it successfully landed on the Martian Utopia plain on May 15, 2021. This vast plain has a diameter of over 3,000 kilometers. It was formed at the dawn of the formation of Mars as a result of the impact of a powerful meteorite.
The six-wheeled Zhurong vehicle, reminiscent of the 2000s American rovers Spirit and Opportunity, weighs 240 kg. Like its American counterparts, it is equipped with cameras that take pictures of the planet and are part of the navigation system. It also has on board five separate instruments designed to study the mineral composition of rocks and weather on the surface of the Red Planet.
To determine the chemical composition, the rover uses a powerful laser that can burn rocks. At the same time, its main difference from American analogues is the presence of a scanner, or ground penetrating radar, capable of detecting water or ice under the ground surface.
Great hopes were placed on Zhurong in terms of finding traces of life. According to some assumptions, in the place where he landed, there was once an ocean with living organisms living in it. But, apparently, he was not destined to find traces of life. NASA images released on February 21 show that the rover is stationary from September last year to February this year. That is, the device could not wake up in December, as it was planned.
In addition, information appeared in January from anonymous sources allegedly related to the Tianwen-1 mission. The message said that the mission control center did not receive feedback from the apparatus, as reported by the South China Morning Post.
Why did the Chinese rover break down?
According to some experts, the cause of the robot’s malfunction may lie in the abnormally cold Martian winter. For Zhurong to operate, temperatures must be at least -15 degrees, according to officials in charge of the Tianwen-1 mission.
Also, it is quite possible that the solar panels of the device are covered with dust, as a result of which it simply does not have enough energy to start. Similar cases on Mars have already occurred – due to dusty solar panels, NASA’s InSight rover died. He spent four years on the Red Planet, and last contacted at the end of December 2022.
But it’s too early to bury Zhuzhong. He has not yet been officially declared dead. If the reason for his “hibernation” is the low temperature, then he can still wake up when it gets warmer on Mars. Even if the dusty panels are the cause, theoretically the apparatus can come to life, but for this a powerful storm must blow the dust off its panels.
However, even if the rover never wakes up again, in terms of the duration of the work, it coped with its task. Initially, it was assumed that the device will work only 90 Martian days. But Zhuzhong worked throughout the year, that is, until May 2022. At present, the Tianwen-1 orbiter continues to operate in the orbit of Mars. It collects data on the surface of the planet and its atmosphere, and will work regardless of the future fate of the device.
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Finally, we recall that China plans to overtake the United States and deliver Martian soil to Earth in 2031, that is, two years earlier. But the Tianwen-2 mission will be launched first, in which Chinese scientists plan to study the Kamoaleva asteroid, which is a quasi-satellite of the Earth.