For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – China has at last released the first pictures from their Zhurong Mars rover today, May 19, since it successfully soft landed the first ever Chinese spacecraft on the surface of the Red Planet last Friday, May 14 on the plains of Utopia Planitia – but had provided no significant post landing confirmatory data until now.
China’s space agency the China National Space Administration (CNSA) unveiled two pictures taken by the six wheeled rover, one in black and white and one in color.
The Zhurong Mars rover is a component of China’s 11,000-pound (5-metric ton) Tianwen-1 mission comprising an orbiter, lander and rover that successfully arrived in Mars orbit on February 10.
China is thereby only the second nation from Earth to successfully soft land on Mars and transmit back significant amounts of data and imagery – following the United States which is currently operating fleet of rovers and orbiters at Mars including the Perseverance Mars rover and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.
To date nine US missions landed on Mars successfully.
Overall China is only the sixth nation or space agency from Earth to safely and successfully achieve orbit around the Red Planet following the US, Soviet Union, Europe, India and the UAE.
The safe soft landing amply shows the tremendous technological advancement and significant achievement by Chinese space scientists and engineers.
Coupled with the recent lunar sample return mission in December and launch of the 1st element of China’s Space Station days ago it demonstrates China is investing rapidly and mightily in space, science and technology and seeking a leadership position challenging the United States.
Zhurong is named after a Chinese god of fire, loaded with six science instruments and weighs 240 kg.
China also released dramatic videos of the landing process starting with the separation of the rover/lander from the Tianwen-1 orbiter- see below.
Watch: #China releases images of #Tianwen-1 spacecraft landing process.
more: https://t.co/ZGJqrkeVC0 pic.twitter.com/HqZYkfAAJI
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) May 19, 2021
“The black-and-white picture was taken by a camera on the front of the Zhurong Mars rover,” said CGTN China’s state-affiliated news agency.
“The camera serves as an “eye” for the rover to detect obstacles so the rover can dodge them.”
Therefore the “eye” or ‘obstacle avoidance camera’ serves a similar function to the hazcam and navcam cameras on NASA’s rover missions like Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity and Perseverance.
“The colored picture was taken by a navigation camera pointed at the tail of the rover. The solar panels and antennas of the rover can be seen unfolded as designed.”
The mission was developed, directed and funded by China’s national space agency – namely the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The Tianwen-1 orbiter established a data link back to Earth on May 15 and started sending back images on Monday, May 17.
The black and white camera has a wide-angle lens which results in a fisheye look to he horizon.
The two “arms” shown on the top of the black and white picture are parts of a radar system, say officials.
Meanwhile the lander deployed the two rail tracks to be used by the rover for the next step to drive down to the surface of the Red Planet in coming Sols (Martian days) – perhaps on Friday or Saturday.
NASA’s new Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated China on the rover landing:
“Congratulations to the China National Space Administration on receiving the first images from the Zhurong Mars rover!” Nelson said.
“As the international scientific community of robotic explorers on Mars grows, the United States and the world look forward to the discoveries Zhurong will make to advance humanity’s knowledge of the Red Planet. I look forward to future international discoveries, which will help inform and develop the capabilities needed to land human boots on Mars.”
China welcomed congratulations from NASA Administrator Bill Nelson:
#NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has congratulated China National Space Administration on receiving the first images from its Zhurong Mars rover. pic.twitter.com/dUlVcCtubq
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) May 20, 2021
The prime landing site for the 529 pound (240 kg) solar-powered rover was Utopia Planitia. It descended to the surface for a soft landing using parachutes and retrorockets – EDL process similar to NASA’s landers and rovers.
The Mars rover has about twice the mass of China’s Yutu moon rovers.
After entering polar elliptical orbit in February 2021 ranging between 165 miles (265 kilometers) and nearly 7,500 miles (12,000 kilometers) the orbiter deployed the rover/lander on May 14, 2021.
If all goes well the lander will then release the rover which will drive down a pair of tracks to the Martian surface – similar to how China’s two Yutu rovers drove onto the lunar surface.
The six-wheeled rover is expected to last about 3 months or 90 days and looks a lot like NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers’ Spirit and Opportunity.
Zhurong is equipped with six science instruments: the Multispectral Camera, Terrain Camera, Mars-Rover Subsurface Exploration Radar, Mars Surface Composition Detector, Mars Magnetic Field Detector, and Mars Meteorology Monitor.
Tianwen-1 goals was to orbit, land and release a rover all on the very first try, and coordinate observations with an orbiter. No planetary missions have ever been implemented in this way.
China’s Tianwen-1 robotic mission will comprehensively investigating the Red Planet’s climate, atmosphere and geology and search for signatures of water as well as snapping numerous images from orbit with the orbiter and the surface from the lander and rover spacecraft.
Tianwen-1 achieved orbit around the Red Planet on Feb. 10, after a seven-month long interplanetary journey and marked the second leg of the arrival of an international fleet of spaceships dispatched from Earth that started less than 24 hours after the first ever probe from an Arab nation (Hope) accomplished the same historic orbital arrival achievement Feb. 9 followed by NASA’s Perseverance rover that barreled towards touchdown on Feb. 18.
The orbiter will operate at least one Martian or two Earth years.
Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Tianwen-1, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, Artemis and NASA missions, SpaceX, Starlink, ULA missions, Commercial Crew Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
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