China Zhurong Rover rolls onto Mars Starting Mobile Mission

China Zhurong Rover rolls onto Mars Starting Mobile Mission
This first black and while picture was taken by China’s Zhurong Mars rover from the Martian surface after driving down the rail ramp on May 22, 2021 and looks back to the lander. The image was taken by the wide angle hazard/obstacle avoidance camera and released by CNSA on May 22. Credit: China National Space Administration/CNSA

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – China’s Zhurong rover rolled onto Mars, Saturday, May 22, starting its mobile 3 month long mission to explore the Red Planet  after successfully becoming the first ever Chinese spacecraft to soft land on the 4th rock from the Sun a week earlier, on May 14 on the plains of Utopia Planitia.

“China’s Mars rover Zhurong rolled down the ramp to begin its mobile mission on the Red Planet at 10:40 a.m. Beijing Time (0240 GMT) on Saturday,” according to the China National Space Administration.

China’s space agency the China National Space Administration (CNSA) quickly released dramatic images of the descent taken by the six wheeled rover Zhurong driving down the twin rail tracks from the landing platform ramp and looking forward while in motion and then looking back to the lander using the on board black and white hazard/obstacle avoidance camera.

Zhurong is named after the Chinese god of fire, loaded with six science instruments and weighs 240 kg.

China is thereby only the second nation from Earth to successfully soft land a rover 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 new Perseverance Mars rover and the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter.

 

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.

“The rover will travel on the Mars surface and gather information of its surroundings, carry out scientific explorations with six payloads, including a configured terrain camera, multispectral camera, subsurface detection radar, surface composition detector and more,” says CNSA.

The forward looking hazard avoidance camera view during Zhurong rover deployment onto Mars surface on May 22, 2021. Credit: CNSA

The mission was developed, directed and funded by China’s national space agency – namely the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

First black and white photo released by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on May 19, 2021, taken by an obstacle avoidance camera installed in front of China’s Zhurong Mars, shows that a ramp on the lander has been extended to the surface of Mars. The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is clearly visible in the image, and the horizon of Mars appears curved due to the wide-angle lens. The image was taken after landing on the plains of Utopia Planitia on May 14, 2021. Credit: China National Space Administration/CNSA

To date nine  US missions involving mobile rovers and stationary landers soft landed on Mars successfully.

Overall China in 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.

Artists rendering of Zhurong deployment to Mars surface from the lander platform. Credit: CNSA

The imagery and data from Zhurong will be relayed back to Earth via the Tianwen-1 orbiter  – which recently adjusted its orbit to enable much better and more frequent communications passes with the rover for transmission between the Red Planet rover and Earth

The six-wheeled solar powered 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.

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 – an EDL process similar to prior NASA landers and rovers.

This is the first color photo from China’s Zhurong Mars rover taken from the rear showing the top deck from its landing spot on a plain in Utopia Planitia after landing on May 14, 2021. This image was released May 19. Credit: China National Space Administration

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.

The lander released the rover for deployment and the drove down a pair of tracks to the Martian surface – similar to how China’s two Yutu rovers drove onto the lunar surface.

The Mars rover Zhurong has about twice the mass of China’s two Yutu moon rovers.

The rover Zhurong is named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology. The name echoes with the Chinese name for the red planet, Huoxing (the planet of fire).

The name of the overall mission, Tianwen, means Questions to Heaven, the title of a poem by the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan (circa 340-278 BC).

Tianwen-1 overall goals were 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 by any nation.

Altogether there are 13 science instruments included on the Tianwen-1 mission – seven on the orbiter and six on the rover/lander including cameras, spectrometers, ground penetrating radar.

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 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.

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.

 

 

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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Ken Kremer

Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. 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. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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