China’s Zhurong Rover Lands on Mars

Zhurong lander
An artist’s idea of Zhurong on Mars.

There’s a brand new participant within the Mars touchdown membership. On May 14th, at 7:18 p.m. EDT / 23:18 Universal Time (UT) (early Saturday Beijing Time), China’s Zhurong rover skilled its personal “nine minutes of terror” earlier than touching down on Mars within the plains of Utopia Planitia. The touchdown web site is close to 109.9°E, 25.1°N.

This makes China the fifth nation to aim a touchdown on Mars and solely the second behind the United States to totally succeed. Most not too long ago, European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli lander failed in 2016, and the United Kingdom’s Beagle 2 lander failed in 2003. The former Soviet Union made seven touchdown makes an attempt and got here closest to success with Mars 3 in 1971, which fell silent 110 seconds after reaching the floor.

The Tianwen 1 mission (that means “questions to the heavens” in Chinese) is an formidable, all-in-one bundle together with orbiter, lander and rover — a primary for any space agency. It launched in July 2020 and arrived in orbit round Mars in February 2021. The orbiter served as a relay for communications through the touchdown.

The rover completed entry, descent, and touchdown utilizing a parachute and retro-rocket mixture, adopted by autonomous hazard avoidance on remaining strategy.

Welcome to Utopia Planitia

A topographical map of Mars reveals the places for previous and future missions. Successful previous and present missions are proven in white; failed missions are proven in black.
Landing websites: E. Lakdawalla; Basemap: MOLA science group / NASA Goddard

If the title of the touchdown web site sounds acquainted, that’s as a result of NASA’s Viking 2 mission efficiently landed in the identical basic area in 1976. China hasn’t launched any photos from the touchdown web site, and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) solely launched a brief statement over the weekend to announce that the touchdown was profitable.

“Mars exploration is risky and difficult,” says the translated CNSA press launch. “The Tianwen-1 mission has broken through key technologies in interplanetary flight, measurement and control communication, soft landing and achieved (China’s) first planetary landing in a significant development for China’s aerospace industry.”

Now, the 240-kilogram (529-pound) Zhurong rover (whose title means “god of fire” in Chinese) sits atop the touchdown platform, able to discover the encircling plains. The rover/touchdown platform mixture utilized by Zhurong is much like the Yutu “Jade Rabbit” mixture fielded by China through the Chang’e sequence of lunar landings. A panorama of the touchdown web site is anticipated within the coming days.

Zhurong’s major mission will final about three months. The solar-powered rover is supplied with six science packages, together with a laser spectrometer, a local weather climate bundle, a magnetometer, imagers, and ground-penetrating radar. One of the principle targets for Zhurong is to seek for subsurface water ice on Mars, offering “ground truth” from its touchdown web site whereas the Tianwen 1 orbiter searches for a similar from its greater vantage level.

Collaboration and Competition

The European Space Agency’s ground-based community and Mars Express orbiter assisted with monitoring the Tianwen 1 mission and the touchdown. Argentina, Austria, and France additionally collaborated on the mission: Argentina supplied floor monitoring from its Las Lajas monitoring station, Austria developed the magnetometer aboard the Tianwen-1 orbiter, and France provided a spectrometer calibration goal aboard Zhurong that could be a duplicate of the one aboard Mars Curiosity.

However, as with a lot of what China is doing in space, many of the data on the touchdown got here out by way of state-run tv, beginner radio operators monitoring the mission, and observers of the Chinese space program.

Mars surface
A high-resolution picture of the floor of Mars captured by the Tianwen 1 orbiter.

This profitable touchdown follows a current string of accomplishments for China’s spaceflight program, together with the Chang’e-4 lunar farside mission touchdown in early 2019, the Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission in late 2020, and fielding the Tianhe core for its new modular space station simply final month.

China has alluded to attainable plans to hold out a pattern return mission from Mars by the shut of the last decade. NASA has related ambitions with Perseverance, which not too long ago landed at Jezero Crater and can stash samples for a future return mission. The subsequent Mars touchdown within the queue is the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, set to launch in late 2022.

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