The Chinese rover covers more meters on Mars

The first Chinese rover in history successfully landed on Mars on Saturday, May 15, 2021. The rover named Zuhrong touched the surface of the Red Planet within the vast Utopia Planitia plain. Shortly after landing, even a Chinese flag was unfurled, further emphasizing the historic and international importance of the achievement – China was thus the second country in the world, after the United States, to successfully land on Mars with a robotic vehicle. In addition, the rover is supported from Mars orbit by the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which performs scientific and navigational measurements and is a kind of communication intermediary between the Martian rover and the Earth.

Nearly 70 Martian days have passed since the landing of the Zhurong mission on the Red Planet (a Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than Earth day). The rover itself successfully left the lander’s platform a week after reaching the surface of Mars – on May 22 this year. Initially, the data reaching Earth was sparse, but soon the CNSA presented pictures showing Zhurong’s vehicle touching the Martian ground with its wheels. The rover quickly took to photographing local field formations, and then was directed to implement the objectives of the exploratory phase of the mission.

Its tasks were carried out in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a place where the shoreline of the ancient Martian sea was located a long time ago. The site was chosen for a reason, because of the hope of finding traces of ancient geological deposits or even potential fossils. Scientists also suspect that in the rover’s workplace, or rather under the surface, there is quite a large volume of water ice. The mission is also expected to investigate the physical properties of the atmosphere and rocky surface.

Zhurong rover as it traverses the Utopia Planitia plain. Photo CNSA [cnsa.gov.cn]

As reported in Chinese broadcasts, the Zhurong rover can collect images every day using a high-resolution navigation camera – taking pictures of the terrain at any stage of its route. In addition, a recorder of the geological composition of the surface and a multispectral camera enable the vehicle to detect more interesting rock formations or sand dunes, which may have high scientific value.

Despite a series of positive reports from the course of the mission, the published image data of these activities did not appear too much – some commentators emphasized that China is very cautious about reporting its exploits on Mars and is sparingly managing information about the status of the mission. From time to time, however, more and more interesting photo and video materials were dosed.

One such case was presented by the National Space Administration’s Exploration and Space Program Center on Friday 23 July. The Chinese rover was supposed to cover a distance of 585 meters on the surface of the Red Planet at that time. Zhurong reached one of the local dunes and took some pictures of the dune landscape. Research was also carried out on the structure of the dune itself and its surroundings. Part of the high-resolution photo material has been made public for general inspection.

The activities related to the Chinese rover on Mars strengthen China’s position in terms of its status in the hierarchy of space exploring nations. This, however, is only a manifestation of the broader ambitions that the Middle Kingdom has in this matter. In the coming years, China plans to start manned missions beyond low Earth orbit and to expand a research station on the moon. In the coming decades, China is expected to compete for priority in manned Mars exploration.

Prepared by: Mateusz Mitkow / MK


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