China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover on Mars appear to be in trouble

China's Tianwen-1 orbiter and rover on Mars appear to be in trouble
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HELSINKI – The two spacecraft that make up China’s first interplanetary mission are experiencing problems, and the rover could be lost on the surface after winter hibernation.

The Zhurong Mars rover has been hibernating on the Martian surface since May 18 last year and was expected to resume activity in December, around the time of the vernal equinox in the northern hemisphere.

However, no announcement of establishing contact with the rover has been made. South China Morning Mail reported Jan. 7, citing sources who did not wish to be named, that teams on Earth have yet to receive a signal from Zhurong.

The Zhurong rover landed in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars in May 2021, but entry a period of hibernation to get through the winter, when both temperatures and solar radiation levels are too low for the solar-powered rover to function.

The rover was expected to resume its activities autonomously once it can generate enough power from solar energy and when temperatures reach around minus 15 degrees Celsius.

Zhurong went into hibernation when local temperatures hovered around minus 20 degrees. according to to the China Lunar Exploration Program, after the autumnal equinox at the end of February. Conditions should already be more favorable after the vernal equinox on December 1. 26. Mars has an axial tilt of about 25 degrees, which means that it has seasonal variations similar to Earth’s during its orbit around the sun.

While there has been no official comment so far, the rover may have been affected by sandstorms in the area, which could reduce power generation levels. The Tianwen-1 orbiter noted storms around the landing area in March and April 2021.

Zhurong has active media to remove dust from its four butterfly-wing solar panels, but it would not be able to perform this operation while hibernating. The matrices also have a dust coating and can be tilted to maximize light collection.

Zhurong had a primary mission lifetime of three Earth months, but operated for just over an Earth year on Utopia Planitia, traveling at least 1,921 meters south from his landing site. I was looking for geomorphological targets like mud volcanoes during your extended mission.

The rover has returned detailed information about the location. layered subfloor with its ground penetrating radar and discovered evidence relatively recent water activity in the area. The rover landing was also used by NASA administrator Bill Nelson as a caveat to Congress on China’s competitive threat to US leadership in human spaceflight.

Meanwhile, the Tianwen-1 orbiter is tasked with assessing the area and attempting to contact the rover. However, the teams are also having trouble receiving data from the orbiter, according to SCMP.

Radio amateurs have also noted problems with attempts by ground stations to jam the orbiter.

Tianwen-1 was scheduled to perform aerobraking tests late last year as part of the preparation for a Mars Sample Return Mission Potential release later this decade. It is unknown if the tests were performed and potentially impacted the orbiter. Chinese space authorities have yet to comment on the situation.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter was initially used to assess the preselected landing zones for Zhurong. It was then used primarily as a communications relay for Zhurong during the rover’s main mission phase, before switching to focus more on his own science goals.

Completed a mapping of the Martian surface with a medium-resolution camera by June 2022, and also finished their assigned targets for their six science payloads.

China launched its Tianwen-1 mission to Mars in July 2020 with the combination of the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the Zhurong rover entering Mars orbit in February 2021.

Both Tianwen-1 and Zhurong went into standby mode in 2021 when Earth and Mars were orbiting on opposite sides of the sun, causing a communication problem. blackout.

China plans to launch the joint Tianwen-2 near-Earth asteroid sample return and main belt comet rendezvous mission around 2025.

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