Has China’s Zhurong Rover Survived on Mars?

China’s first Mars mission, Tianwen-1, has been orbiting the red planet since February 2021 and its Zhurong rover has been on the surface since May 2021. However, new images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have revealed that the rover has not moved since September 2022. It is unclear if the rover is still operational or if it has become an expensive pile of Martian trash.[0]

The rover, named after the god of fire in Chinese mythology, was sent to Mars as part of China's Tianwen-1 mission.[1] It touched down at its pre-selected landing area in the vast Utopia Planitia region, marking the country’s first probe landing on the planet.[2] Following that, the Tianwen-1 orbiter acted as a relay for communication with Zhurong for a period of approximately six months.[2]

Zhurong was designed to have a lifespan of only three months, but remained operational for much longer.[0] In May 2022, the Chinese officials decided to put Zhurong in hibernation mode to wait out dropping temperatures and dangerous sandstorms.[3] This is a strategy commonly used as it enables the rover to save energy when there is no sunlight available for solar panels to absorb.[3] This is particularly a problem for rovers that only have solar power as a means of generating battery charge, as their panels can be coated in Martian dust, which prevents them from charging.[3]

The photos captured by the NASA orbiter show the rover appeared as a blue-ish dot near a crater on the surface of Mars and had moved between March and September 2022. However, the rover has not moved since September and Chinese authorities have not commented on the status of the rover.

Utilizing the Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (RoPeR) at a high frequency, a team of researchers from Macau University of Science and Technology in China obtained an image of the subsurface of Mars.[1] The researchers hope that imaging the subsurface of Mars will help to shed light on the planet's geological history, previous climate conditions, and any water or ice the planet may host now or in the past.[4]

Mars and the moon are popular targets for space missions, but landing rovers on the celestial bodies is a challenge few nations have met.[5] Tragically, several NASA missions, such as the InSight lander mission and the Opportunity rover in 2018, have been lost due to dust-related death.[3]

0. “NASA imagery reveals China's Mars rover hasn't moved in months” Business Insider, 1 Mar. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-imagery-reveals-chinas-mars-rover-hasnt-moved-months-2023-3

1. “China's Zhurong Rover Detects Geological Structures Mars | Weather.com” The Weather Channel, 1 Mar. 2023, https://weather.com/en-IN/india/space/news/2023-03-01-chinas-zhurong-rover-detects-geological-structures-mars

2. “Tianwen-1 marks 2 years in Martian orbit | Ukrainian news” Ukrainian News Agency, 27 Feb. 2023, https://ukranews.com/en/news/914713-tianwen-1-marks-2-years-in-martian-orbit

3. “NASA presses China by releasing images of its rumored ‘dead' Mars rover” TweakTown, 3 Mar. 2023, https://www.tweaktown.com/news/90582/nasa-presses-china-by-releasing-images-of-its-rumored-dead-mars-rover/index.html

4. “China's Zhurong rover reveals complex layers beneath the surface of Mars” Space.com, 28 Feb. 2023, https://www.space.com/china-zhurong-rover-mars-subsurface-layers

5. “NASA imagery reveals China's Mars rover hasn't moved in months as Chinese scientists scramble to save the mission” Yahoo! Voices, 1 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/news/nasa-imagery-reveals-chinas-mars-233325351.html

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