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Chinas Zhurong rover moves onto Martian surface to begin scientific operations


The Chinese Martian rover Zhurong moved from its landing platform onto the surface of the Red Plane at 10:40 am Saturday, starting its exploration around the landing site, according to the China National Space Administration.

The administration said in a statement on Saturday afternoon that according to data sent back to the ground control, the rover's deployment was carried out safely and smoothly, adding that it has formally embarked on scientific tasks.

The 240-kilogram robot is tasked with surveying Mars' landforms, geological structures, soil characteristics, locations of water and ice, atmospheric and environmental traits as well as magnetic, gravitational and other physical fields, the statement said.

Saturday's deployment marked the beginning of a new challenging chapter in the Tianwen 1 mission, one of the most sophisticated space adventures mankind has ever attempted.

Before Tianwen 1, no country had ever tried to send an orbiter, a lander and a rover in one single expedition to Mars.

Tianwen 1's landing capsule touched down on Mars on the morning of May 15, becoming the first Chinese spacecraft that has ever landed on another planet.
President Xi Jinping called the probe's arrival in Mars a landmark achievement in China's space cause as it left the nation's first mark on the Red Planet.

Named after an ancient Chinese god of fire, Zhurong is now about 320 million kilometers from Earth. It is the sixth rover on Mars, following five predecessors launched by the United States.

The 1.85-meter-tall machine is propelled by six wheels and powered by four solar panels, being capable of moving at 200 meters an hour on the Martian surface.

Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology in Beijing, major maker of Chinese spacecraft, Zhurong carries six scientific instruments including multispectral camera, shallow subsurface radar and meteorological measurer.

If the semi-autonomous vehicle functions efficiently, it will work for at least three months and undertake comprehensive surveys of the planet.

Sun Zezhou, chief designer of the Tianwen 1 probe, earlier said that a rover will have to overcome an array of difficulties on Mars, such as disturbances in sunlight reception and extreme weather, in order to survive and operate.

He said the Chinese rover has been programmed to inactivate under extreme circumstances and reactivate itself when it is safe to do so.

Tianwen 1, named after an ancient Chinese poem, was launched by a Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket on July 23 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in the southernmost island province of Hainan, kick-starting China's first mission to another planet in our solar system.

Propelled by a mixture of 48 large and small engines, the spacecraft rocketed more than 470 million km and carried out four midcourse corrections and a deep-space trajectory maneuver before entering the orbit of Mars on Feb 10.

At that time, Mars was 193 million km from Earth. Because the two celestial bodies keep moving in their own orbits, a Mars-bound spacecraft must fly in a carefully calculated, curved trajectory to reach Mars.

On Feb 24, Tianwen 1 entered a preset parking orbit above Mars. The spacecraft was programmed to maintain that orbit for about three months to examine the preset landing site.

Tianwen 1 is the 46th Mars exploration mission since October 1960, when the former Soviet Union launched the first Mars-bound spacecraft. It followed the US' Mars 2020 mission, which has already deployed a rover, named Perseverance, and the first Mars-based rotorcraft, called Ingenuity.

Only 19 Mars missions so far have been considered successful.

Eight Mars orbiters are in active service as well as three operational rovers-the US' Curiosity and Perseverance and China's Zhurong.

Published : May 23, 2021

By : China Daily / ANN