Not moving for months: Chinese rover is paralyzed

Questions have arisen around the status of the Chinese Zhurong rover. The rover went into a dormant state in May 2022 due to a dust storm and cold conditions. A sequence of images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter with the HiRISE instrument shows that the Chinese rover has not moved since at least early September 2022. This week, the HiRISE team from the University of Arizona has shared three different images of Zhurong, in which the device looks like a bluish dot.

A series of three NASA MRO images in orbit shows the blue dot of the Zhurong rover. The first image is dated March 2022, the second – September 2022, the third – February 2023. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona

The first image was taken on March 11, 2022, the second on September 8, 2022, and the last on February 7, 2023. In the last two images, the rover is in the same place, which does not bode well.

The National Space Administration of China, as it is known, keeps secret the progress of research on Mars, so there are very few official reports about the mission. CNSA has not published any current updates about Zhurong at all and remains silent.

Solar Panel Fault

Zhurong arrived on Mars in May 2021 as part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which included a lander and an orbiter. China has become the second country to successfully manage a rover on the Red Planet. Thus, the spacecraft formed a good company for NASA rovers.

Zhurong Chinese Rover

But unlike the American Curiosity and Perseverance, which rely on built-in RTGs as a power source, solar panels are chosen for Zhurong. NASA has learned a good lesson from such an extremely unreliable way of getting power from the Sun on Mars, because dust storms quickly dust solar panels and prevent devices on the surface of Mars from getting enough energy. The NASA InSight lander and the Opportunity rover stopped working precisely after their panels became dusty. It is quite possible that Zhurong experienced a similar fate.

Whatever happens, the rover still fulfilled its main mission objectives and exceeded the initial three-month service life, consolidating its legacy in the history of space exploration.

Earlier we reported on how the Chinese rover had problems.

According to UAHIRISE

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