What happens to Zhurong: China for the first time explains the loss of communication with the rover

Since the Chinese rover has gone into hibernation in May 2022 to wait out the cold winter, Zhurong continues to sleep deeply and not get in touch. It was expected that it would wake up and resume exploring the surface of Mars in December, but this did not happen. This has led to questions about the state of the mission. Since then, Chinese officials have remained remarkably silent, refusing to shed light on the situation.

Photo the Chinese Zhurong rover on the surface of Mars. Photo: CNSA

“We have not had any communication from the rover since it entered hibernation. We are monitoring it every day and believe it has not woken up because the sunlight has not yet reached the minimum level for power generation,” Zhang Rongqiao, chief designer of China’s Mars exploration programme, commented to Reuters.

In other words, Chinese researchers are not ready to give up hope and are still waiting for the resumption of contact with the six-wheeled rover. However, whether this is likely remains to be guessed.

Reason for the long hibernation

According to Zhang, the most likely cause is the accumulation of dust, which hinders the ability of Zhurong to produce solar energy. Images taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier this year show that the rover has not moved since at least September.

A model of the Chinese Zhurong rover, which is part of the Chinese Tianwen-1 space mission, is presented at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition or Airshow China in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, China, on September 28, 2021. Photo: REUTERS

Putting rovers into hibernation mode is a common tactic used by space agencies because it keeps rovers in a safe and energy-efficient mode. This tactic is usually used when the rover’s solar panels are insufficient for sunlight to be absorbed and converted into usable energy. However, using only solar panels as energy sources has some serious disadvantages. If enough Martian dust accumulates on the rover’s solar panels, it will prevent the absorption of any sunlight, effectively killing the rover.

The Zhurong rover is the first spacecraft not built in the USA; it landed gently on the surface of Mars and spent almost an entire Earth year there, looking for signs of ancient life, significantly exceeding its planned period of three months for which it was designed.

Earlier we reported on how the Chinese Zhurong refuted the theory of water on Mars.

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