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


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HELSINKI — The two spacecraft making up China’s first interplanetary mission are each struggling issues, with the rover potentially misplaced on the floor after winter hibernation.

The Zhurong Mars rover has been hibernating on the Martian floor since May 18 final year and was anticipated to renew exercise in December, across the time of the Spring equinox within the northern hemisphere.

However no announcement of establishing contact with the rover has been made. The South China Morning Post reported Jan. 7, citing sources that don't want to be named, that groups on Earth have but to obtain a sign from Zhurong.

The Zhurong rover landed in Mars’s Utopia Planitia area in May 2021 however entered a interval of hibernation to ride out winter, when each temperatures and photo voltaic radiation ranges are too low for the solar-powered rover to operate. 

The rover was anticipated to autonomously resume actions as soon as it can generate sufficient energy from photo voltaic energy and when temperatures attain round minus 15 levels Celsius.

Zhurong entered hibernation when native temperatures were round minus 20 degrees, in accordance to the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program, after the autumn equinox in late February. Conditions ought to already by extra favorable following the Spring equinox on Dec. 26. Mars has an axial tilt of round 25 degrees, meaning it has has similar seasonal variations to Earth throughout its orbit across the sun. 

While there has so far been no official comment, the rover may have been impacted by sand storms within the area, which could reduce the levels of energy generation. The Tianwen-1 orbiter famous storms across the touchdown space in March and April 2021.

Zhurong has active technique of eradicating mud from its 4 butterfly wing photo voltaic arrays, however would be unable to carry out this operation whereas hibernating. The arrays even have an anti-dust coating and can tilt to maximise light collection. 

Zhurong had a primary mission lifetime of three Earth months however operated for simply over one Earth year in Utopia Planitia, touring at least 1,921 meters south from its touchdown site. It was seeking out geomorphologic targets such as mud volcanoes throughout its prolonged mission.

The rover has returned detailed insights into the native layered subsurface with its ground-penetrating radar and found proof of comparatively recent aqueous exercise within the area. The rover touchdown was additionally utilized by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson as a warning to Congress as to China’s aggressive threat to American management in human spaceflight.

Meanwhile the Tianwen-1 orbiter has been tasked with assessing the space and attempting to contact the rover. Teams are however additionally having trouble receiving data from the orbiter, in accordance to SCMP.

Radio amateurs have additionally famous points with makes an attempt for floor stations to lock onto the orbiter. 

Tianwen-1 was scheduled to conduct aerobraking tests late final year as a half of preparation for a Mars pattern return mission potentially launching later this decade. It is unknown if the tests have been conducted and potentially impacted the orbiter. Chinese space authorities have but to touch upon the situation. 

The Tianwen-1 orbiter was initially used to evaluate the pre-selected touchdown zones for Zhurong. It was then used primarily as a communications relay for Zhurong throughout the rover’s primary mission phase, earlier than then switching to focus extra by itself science objectives.

It accomplished a mapping of the Martian floor with a medium-resolution camera by June 2022, and additionally accomplished its assigned goals for its six science payloads.

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

Both Tianwen-1 and Zhurong had entered a standby mode in 2021 when the Earth and Mars were orbiting at reverse sides of the sun, inflicting a communications blackout.

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


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