What happened to the Chinese Zhurong Mars spacecraft? Many planetary scientists and space experts wonder about it. The device should have come out of hibernation weeks ago, but so far the rover shows no sign of life. Meanwhile, the Chinese space agency is keeping silent about the status of the Martian rover.
Zhurong landed on the red planet in May 2021 as part of China’s Tianwen-1 mission, the country’s first interplanetary mission to include a Mars satellite. The rover spent a year searching before winter set in on Mars and the rover hibernated due to freezing temperatures. If it is too cold, the robot will not be able to properly charge its batteries.
The rover was expected to wake up last December, at the dawn of spring on Mars, but the first reports emerged in early January that flight control was still waiting for an initial signal. Now that things are quiet, fears are growing that Zhurong’s voice will never be heard.
That wouldn’t be surprising, says astrobiologist David Flannery, co-author of NASA’s Perseverance rover, at the site. nature. “There is a long history of solar-powered landers and rovers on Mars that have run out of capacity.” Last month, NASA announced that it had to say goodbye to the InSight lander, which could no longer generate enough power after a dust storm: its solar panels were covered in Martian sand.
The latter could be the case with Zhurong. If there is too much dust on the solar panels, it will not be possible to charge the batteries. The rover has a mechanism to get rid of dust, but this only works when the vehicle is active.
Some are still optimistic. In the coming months, when it gets warmer, Zhurong may still be able to adequately charge its batteries and come out of sleep mode. For this, the temperature must be at least 15 degrees Celsius and the batteries must be able to generate at least 140 watts. According to measurements by the American Perseverance rover, which has been traveling more than 1,500 km, the temperature is now slightly higher.
In addition to Zhurong’s radio silence, Chinese flight control has recently lost contact with a satellite in orbit around Mars. Although not yet written off, both spacecraft completed their primary mission last year. This makes the China mission a great success anyway.
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