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China Rover Sends Back First Images From Mars

Image credit: China National Space Administration

China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) released two photos and two videos captured by China’s Mars probe Tianwen-1 during and after the country’s first landing on the red planet. The first photograph, a black and white image, was taken by an obstacle avoidance camera installed in front of the Mars rover. The image shows that a ramp on the lander has been extended to the surface of Mars. The terrain of the rover’s forward direction is visible in the image, and the horizon of Mars appears curved due to the wide-angle lens.

The second image, a colour photo, was taken by the navigation camera fitted to the rear of the rover. The rover’s solar panels and antenna are seen unfolded, and the red soil and rocks on the Martian surface are visible in the image. The probe also sent back a video taken by a camera on the orbiter, showing how the lander and the rover separated from the orbiter during landing.

According to an article, Zhurong looks a lot like the US space agency’s (Nasa) Spirit and Opportunity vehicles from the 2000s. It weighs some 240kg. A tall mast carries cameras to take pictures and aid navigation; five additional instruments will investigate the mineralogy of local rocks and the general nature of the environment, including the weather. Zhurong also has a laser tool to zap rocks to assess their chemistry. It also has a radar to look for sub-surface water-ice, a capability it shares with perseverance.

As reported by OpenGov Asia,  Zhurong successfully landed on the surface of Mars on May 15, marking a historic accomplishment in China’s space endeavours and making it the second country in the world to achieve the feat. Tianwen 1 mission has left China’s first mark on the Red Planet and is another landmark achievement in the development of China’s space industry.

The Mars landing was a serious test for the country’s capabilities in science, technology and engineering. Such a challenging attempt is characterised by a succession of complex activities that must be conducted completely by the spacecraft within a very short period of time. The lack of knowledge about the Martian atmosphere also brought a lot of uncertainties to the mission.

Despite its extreme difficulty, every step during the entry, descent and landing processes was executed with perfect accuracy. More than half of the over 20 Mars landing attempts made by spacefaring nations so far failed due to the exceptionally difficult nature of such manoeuvres.

Zhurong is scheduled to observe and map the landing site and to perform diagnostic tests in the coming days. Zhurong will move from its landing module onto the Martian soil to begin scientific surveys. The first photos to be taken by the rover are expected to be transferred back to Earth around the end of this month.

The probe then spent time surveying Utopia, taking high-resolution images to pinpoint the safest place to put the rover down. The aim with all such ventures is to pick a spot that is devoid of imposing craters and where the landscape isn’t covered in large boulders.

The current distance to Mars is 320 million km which results in a delay in signal transmission. Therefore the whole entry-descent-landing procedure had to be carried out autonomously by the landing module based on a preset program and data obtained by its sensors.

Following a predetermined program, upon entering the atmosphere, the capsule would first use a heat shield to decelerate, slowing the craft by aerodynamic drag. It would then deploy a parachute to further reduce speed and drop the heat shield. Next, the craft would unfold its four landing legs, drop the parachute and ignite its retrorockets at 1.5 km above the Martian surface.

The capsule successfully landed on a large plain in Utopia, the largest known impact basin on Mars and in the solar system. The site was selected because scientists determined that it has suitable terrain and weather for a landing, and is also highly likely to have been part of an ancient Martian ocean, making scientific research extremely worthwhile.

China has started planning for a sample-return mission to Mars, a task not yet achieved by any country. From the Chinese perspective, space benefits Chinese diplomacy and technology. By going to Mars, it demonstrates that China can contribute to the global pool of human knowledge

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