Chinese scientists hopeful about silent Zhurong Mars rover: Report
New Delhi, March 18 Chinese scientists are hopeful that the Zhurong Mars rover, switched to dormant mode due to severe weather conditions on Mars, may operate again, the media reported.
The Zhurong rover is part of the Tianwen-1 mission which touched down in southern Utopia Planitia on Mars in May 2021.
According to the China National Space Administration, the rover went into silent mode while waiting out a dust storm on the surface of the planet in May last year.
During the winter season, Zurong faces temperatures dropping below minus 20 degree Celsius during the daytime, while the night goes below minus 100 degree Celsius.
The dusty weather and the extremely low ambient temperature in winter also leads to reduction in the power generation capacity of the solar wing.
The rover was expected to wake up in December when weather conditions improve as Mars’ northern hemisphere enters springtime.
But images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed the “rover has remained stationary between September 8, 2022 and February 7, 2023 “, Vice.com reported.
Based on the orbital images, “It’s covered by the sand and the dust, so it definitely hurts its ability to transform sunlight to electricity,” Yi Xu, Associate Professor at the Space Science Institute at Macau University of Science and Technology, was quoted as saying.
To adapt to the notorious dust storms on Mars, Zhurong’s solar panels have been designed like butterfly wings so dust could be blown away. It’s also equipped with a mechanism allowing it to flip its panels to remove accumulated debris, but this requires the rover to be on.
In January, the South China Morning Post reported that Chinese scientists were still waiting for a signal from Zhurong and that sandstorms had hampered the rover’s ability to generate power with its solar panels.
Zhurong can automatically resume operation when its energy level hits over 140 watts and the temperature of its components, such as its battery, rises above minus 59 degree Fahrenheit.
“We have to wait because now it’s spring and later, that’d be the summer season on Mars. Then it should receive more sunlight and the temperature also increases,” Yi said.
“When the battery is fully charged, then the rover or the instrument may operate again.
Meanwhile, Beijing and authorities have remained silent on the status of the rover, even as it celebrated its Mars mission Tianwen-1’s second anniversary in orbit last month.