Zhurong Mars orbiter of China spies on Perseverance rover

The Tianwen 1 orbiter recently captured photos of the Zhurong rover, its partner on the Tianwen 1 Mars mission, and NASA’s Perseverance rover as the two wheeled robots explored their surroundings. 

Among the new shots is an undated orbital view of Zhurong and its tracks. Those tracks snake past Zhurong’s parachute and landing platform, showing that the rover inspected some of the hardware that helped it land safely back in May 2021.

Tianwen 1 imaged Perseverance on March 7, when the car-sized NASA rover was about 650 feet (200 meters) southeast of its landing site, according to China’s CCTV+. The state-owned broadcaster included that shot in a new 2-minute video highlighting some of the best recent imagery by the Tianwen 1 mission.

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The video also features some photos snapped by Zhurong on the Martian surface. For example, it juxtaposes two selfies taken in May 2021 and January of this year, showing how much dust accumulated on the body of the solar-powered rover during that stretch.

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Zhurong and the Tianwen 1 orbiter launched together in July 2020 and arrived at Mars in February 2021. Zhurong stayed attached to the orbiter until May, when it separated to perform its historic touchdown, China’s first ever on the Red Planet. 

Zhurong has traveled 1.11 miles (1.78 kilometers) on the Martian surface to date, according to CCTV+. Both it and the Tianwen 1 orbiter are healthy and operating normally, the broadcaster added.

The image acquired by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows the Zhurong robot a short distance in front of its landing platform. The HiRise camera on MRO also detected the parachute and components of the capsule (backshell and heatshield) that brought Zhurong through the atmosphere.

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The life-hunting, sample-gathering Perseverance has covered considerably more ground since its February 2021 touchdown inside Mars’ Jezero Crater: The NASA rover’s odometer currently reads 3.94 miles (6.34 km), according to mission team members

Like the current American rovers (Curiosity and Perseverance), Zhurong 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.

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Perseverance has been making serious tracks lately, heading toward an accessible section of the ancient river delta that once existed inside Jezero. The mission team is picking Perseverance’s routes with the help of observations made by Ingenuity, the tiny helicopter that landed with the rover on a technology-demonstrating mission and is now doing scouting work for its larger cousin. (Ingenuity is too small to be seen from orbit.

Zhurong robot 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.

China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission launched on July 23, 2020 amidst the added challenge of the global COVID-19 pandemic. It will, among other things, search for pockets of water using radar mounted on the Zhurong rover. The European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft found evidence for subsurface water using radar from orbit, but along with NASA’s Perseverance rover this will be the first time a rover has searched from the ground.

About the author

Naqvi Syed

Naqvi Syed is is a freelance journalist who has contributed to several publications, including Spacepsychiatrist. He tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. He works with Spacepsychiatrist from a long time.

Link: https://spacepsychiatrist.com/

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