Chinese Mars rover successfully survives solar blackout, continues scientific exploration

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A photo released on June 11, 2021 by the National Space Administration of China (CNSA) shows a selfie of China’s first Martian Zhurong rover with the landing pad. (CNSA / Document via Xinhua)

China’s Zhurong Mars rover – the country’s first space probe to explore the Red Planet – has again embarked on its scientific exploration journey after safely surviving nearly a month of solar blackout, during which the probe lost contact with Earth and relied on its own intelligent autonomous systems.

Zhurong’s successful “survival”, along with the valuable data acquired during this period, which was a first in China’s aerospace history, is invaluable for future deep space missions. , including the one to Jupiter and the sample recovery mission from Mars, experts noted.

The good news arrived on Friday from China’s National Space Administration’s Chinese lunar exploration project, announcing that the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and Zhurong rover will continue their scientific exploration after a safe passage through it. a period of solar blackout, China Central Television (CCTV) reported. .

In late September, communication between the probe and Earth began to experience blackouts due to disruption from solar radiation, which was caused by a phenomenon known as solar failure when Earth and Mars fall. on either side of the Sun in almost a straight line.

The loss of contact with the distant traveler worried many Chinese netizens, whose fears and anticipations floundered like any parent who took their children to a faraway land – preoccupied with the unknown yet confident in their abilities. .

To ensure the safety of the probe during the “blackout”, the ground control team suspended its exploration tasks and prepared a series of measures, such as the advance installation of a Autonomous operating state and the definition of the possible conditions that it can meet and their solutions, so that it can eliminate the risks in advance.

The probe also has the ability to control its own operating system and can remain autonomous during any period of solar failure, resuming communication with the ground after the period is over.

As communication links are blocked, Chinese researchers were able to track and observe the condition of the orbiter and rover, and acquired valuable first-hand data with the help of many international institutions in Europe, d ‘Australia, Russia and South Africa.

Jiao Weixin, a professor of space science at Peking University, believes the experiment tested China’s deep-space exploration capabilities both to maintain the safety of the probe while continuing its observation when ground control is unable to support the expedition.

“Solar failure is a common occurrence when we explore celestial bodies in the solar system, especially with Mars and other celestial bodies close to the Sun. Our country’s successful first test experience has fully demonstrated our extensive preparation work, which will further assist China in future deep space missions, including the one to Jupiter, “Jiao told the Global Times on Friday.

Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based space expert and retired Chinese Academy of Space Technology researcher, told the Global Times on Friday that with Chang’e’s successful moon sample recovery mission -5 and the Tianwen-1 mission which withstood multiple challenges in one go, a Mars sample recovery mission can be expected in the next few years, around 2028 to 2030.

In his next chapter, Zhurong will continue his adventure on the Red Planet and travel south of the landing site to an area of ​​suspected mud volcanoes detected by Orbiter Tianwen-1.

The area has never been closely examined by any other country, with many believing that it may contain evidence of the existence of water or life, which could have been extracted from the ground by eruptions from the mud volcanoes, Jiao said.

Launched on July 23, 2020 and landing on the Martian surface on May 15 this year, the Chinese orbiter Tianwen-1 has been in orbit for more than 450 days. The Zhurong rover also operated for more than 150 days, far exceeding its expected life of 90 days, according to CCTV News.


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