Did Mars claim another space robot?
In 2021, China has a place in the Martian history books as it becomes the second country to land on the Red Planet. Now, the star of that mission, the rover named Zhurong, might be in trouble.
Reports from China say the rover has not yet awakened from its planned slumber.
The rover, along with the probe, makes up China’s first interplanetary mission called Tiawen 1. After landing in Utopia Planitia, a massive lava plain in Mars’ northern hemisphere, Zhurong conducted a host of science activities before it was scheduled to go into hibernation during hibernate. Martian winter.
Normally, spacecraft “sleep” on Mars during the winter in order to conserve energy and help withstand the harsh winter conditions. Zhurong entered a dormant phase in May 2022, and was expected to wake up in December. However, the rover fails to contact home.
No official has been released yet from the Chinese space agency, but the South China Morning Post ran a report on Jan. 7, saying that anonymous sources say the rover has yet to communicate.
Mars is a harsh, barren world, with a track record of killing robots with temperatures below freezing and frequent dust storms.
NASA’s beloved Mars exploration twins, known as Spirit and Opportunity, succumbed to the elements while on the Red Planet.
NASA’s Mars Insight probe, designed to study the planet’s interior, said goodbye to Earth in December after a 4-year mission in which the layer of dust on its solar panels had grown thick enough that it could no longer harvest the energy it needed to operate.
NASA’s newest spacecraft – Curiosity and Perseverance – have been able to keep running thanks to the nuclear power sources on board. Zurong had his own trick to help him stay on Mars: self-cleaning solar arrays.
However, the cleaning mechanisms could not operate while the robot was in hibernation.
China’s Eyes in the Sky, the Tianwen-1 orbiter, observed sandstorms near Zhurong around the time the robot went into hibernation. These storms could have easily reduced the levels of energy that the robot was able to produce with its solar arrays. And with the self-cleaning system not working, dust and sand may build up on the arrays.
Spirit and Opportunity both had close calls like this during their missions. They’re going to be slow to wake up, and as NASA was prepared to count them, they’ve been waking up. The same could be true here. As temperatures continue to rise on Mars, the rover can build up its power sources.
In September, Chinese space officials announced that Zhurong will wake up when two conditions are met: it must generate more than 140 watts of power and temperatures must be above 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius).
Reports from NASA’s Perseverance rover, located a little south of Zhurong, indicate that Martian temperatures are barely above that threshold, and since Zhurong is to the north, it may not be warm enough yet.
Will Zhurong wake up, or has Mars captured another rover? Only time will tell. Either way, the mission is already considered a success.
For the latest news, weather, sports and video streaming, head to The Hill.