China’s “Tianwen-1” Mars orbiter and rover had a problem

China's "Tianwen-1" Mars orbiter and rover had a problem
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HELSINKI — The two spacecraft that make up China’s first interplanetary mission are both suffering, with the rover potentially lost on the surface after winter hibernation.

The Zhurong Mars rover has been hibernating on the Martian surface since May 18 last year and was expected to resume operations in December, during the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox.

However, no communication was made with the rover. South China Morning Post informed On January 7, citing unnamed sources, ground teams have not yet received a signal from Zhurong.

The Zhurong rover landed in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars in May 2021, but understood hibernation period to break out of winter when both temperature and solar radiation levels are too low for a solar-powered rover to operate.

The rover was expected to resume autonomous operation once it was able to generate enough energy from the sun and the temperature reached minus 15 degrees Celsius.

Zhurong went into hibernation when the local temperature was close to minus 20 degrees. according to China to the Lunar Exploration Program, after the autumnal equinox in late February. After the vernal equinox in December, conditions should already be more favorable. 26. Mars has an axial tilt of about 25 degrees, meaning it has similar seasonal changes to Earth during its orbit around the Sun.

Although there is no official comment yet, the rover may have been affected by sandstorms in the area, which could reduce the level of energy production. The Tianwen-1 orbiter recorded storms around the landing zone in March and April 2021.

There is Zhurong active means four butterfly wings helped clear dust from the solar array, but would not have been able to perform this operation while hibernating. There are also arrays dust cover and can be bent to increase light collection.

Zhurong’s primary mission life was three Earth months, but it operated for just over one Earth year on Utopia Planitia, traveling at least 1,921 meters south of the landing site. He was looking for geomorphological targets such as mud volcanoes during an extended mission.

Rover returned detailed information about the local layered underground discovered by ground penetrating radar proof a relatively new aquatic activity in the area. The rover landing was also used by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson warning To Congress on China’s competitive threat to American leadership in human spaceflight.

Meanwhile, the Tianwen-1 orbiter has been tasked with assessing the area and trying to communicate with the rover. According to the SCMP, the teams are also having trouble getting data from orbit.

Radio enthusiasts have also noted problems with attempts to connect ground stations to orbit.

It was planned to conduct Tianwen-1 aerobraking tests at the end of last year as part of the preparation Mars sample return mission potentially launching later this decade. It is not known if the tests were conducted and if there was a potential impact on orbit. The Chinese space authorities have not yet commented on the situation.

The Tianwen-1 orbiter was initially used to evaluate pre-selected landing zones for Zhurong. It was then used as a communications relay for Zhurong during the rover’s primary mission phase, before shifting to focus more on its scientific goals.

By June 2022, it will have completed mapping the surface of Mars with a medium-resolution camera. completed assigned goals for six scientific loads.

China launched the Tianwen-1 mission in July 2020, combining the Tianwen-1 orbiter and the Zhurong rover, which will enter Mars in February 2021.

Both Tianwen-1 and Zhurong entered standby mode in 2021 when Earth and Mars orbit on opposite sides of the sun, and communications are established. blackout.

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

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