China has landed its first rover Zhurong on Mars

 

China just successfully landed its first rover on Mars, becoming only the second nation to do so. 

The Tianwen-1 mission, China's first interplanetary endeavor, reached the surface of the Red Planet Friday (May 14), Chinese space officials have not yet confirmed the exact time and location of touchdown. 

Tianwen-1 (which translates to "Heavenly Questions") arrived in Mars' orbit in February after launching to the Red Planet on a Long March 5 rocket in July 2020. 

After circling the Red Planet for more than three months, the Tianwen-1 lander, with the rover attached, separated from the orbiter to begin its plunge toward the planet's surface. 

Once the lander and rover entered Mars' atmosphere, the spacecraft endured a similar procedure to the "seven minutes of terror" that NASA's Mars rovers have experienced when attempting soft landings on Mars. 

A heat shield protected the spacecraft during the fiery descent, after which the mission safely parachuted down to the Utopia Planitia region, a plain inside of an enormous impact basin in the planet's northern hemisphere. 

Much like during NASA's Perseverance rover landing, Tianwen-1's landing platform fired some small, downward-facing rocket engines to slow down during the last few seconds of its descent. 

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has not yet officially confirmed the successful landing, but it has been announced on social media by the state-run China Global Television Network (CGTN) and by researchers at Macau University of Science and Technology in China. 

Now that Zhurong has got down successfully, scientists will try to get at least 90 Martian days of service out of it, studying the local geology. A day, or Sol, on Mars lasts 24 hours and 39 minutes.

The robot looks a lot like the American space agency's (Nasa) Spirit and Opportunity vehicles from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg and is powered by fold-out solar panels.

A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will help assess the mineralogy of local rocks and look for any water-ice below ground.

Sources:

  • https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01301-7