The Chinese remote-controlled robot “Zhurong” left its Mars landing platform on Saturday, May 22, a week after its arrival, to begin exploring the surface of the red planet, the official China New Agency reported. He also sent his first photos.
The sending of this robot to Mars is a first for China, which has become the second country in the world to succeed in such an operation after the United States.
China launched its uninhabited mission from Earth in July 2020 “Tianwen-1”, named after the probe sent into space and composed of an orbiter (which revolves around Mars) and a lander with “Zhurong” on board. This module landed on Saturday, May 15 in an area of the red planet named “Utopia Planitia”, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars.
Chinese fire god
Weighing approximately 240 kg, “Zhurong” – named after the fire god of Chinese mythology – sent his first photos on Wednesday, May 19. He will have to conduct analyzes of the soil, the atmosphere and map the red planet.
Equipped with six wheels, “Zhurong” is equipped with solar panels for its power supply and is supposed to be operational for three months. The rover is also equipped with cameras, radar and lasers which will allow it in particular to study its environment and analyze the composition of rocks.
By managing to land its robot on Mars, China, which is investing billions of euros in its space program to catch up with Europe, Russia and the United States, is testifying to its increasingly ambitious space ambitions.
Looking for traces of water
The launch of the probe Tianwen-1 was carried out with a Long March 5 rocket, from the Wenchang launch base on the island of Hainan, in southern China. After a 7-month journey, Tianwen-1 entered Martian orbit on February 10, 2021.
The landing site of ” Zhurong Was chosen because it is suspected that it would be the edge of an ancient lake or ocean, which would have existed at the beginning of the history of Mars. One of the objectives of the mission is to search for evidence of the past or current presence of water ice in the area.
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With its various instruments, the rover will be able to study the Martian surface, the rocks therein and their composition. He will also study the climate and the atmosphere of the red planet with its meteorological station. Zhurong should also be interested in the internal structure of Mars (magnetic field, distribution of its mass, gravitational field).
Perseverance continues on its way
At the same time, the American robot Perseverance continues its mission on the red planet. After landing on February 18, 2021 in the Jezero impact crater, the spacecraft developed by NASA began exploring this site of 45 km in diameter which housed approximately 3.6 billion d years, a permanent lake and which preserves the traces of several river deltas. The scientific community believes that in the past it may have housed life forms and preserved their traces.
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Weighing over a ton, Perseverance will cross part of the delta before heading to what could be the shores of the ancient lake that filled the crater. Finally, he must climb the edges of the crater 600 meters high before crossing the surrounding plains. Its primary mission is expected to last a little over two Earth years.
On April 20, 2021, the rover also achieved a spectacular first by converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere of Mars into oxygen. NASA hopes that future versions can pave the way for human exploration. Not only could the process produce oxygen for future astronauts to breathe, it could also prevent the large amounts of oxygen needed to propel the rocket on the return trip from Earth.
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A third machine is also in action on the planet: the American robot Curiosity, which landed in August 2012. It has shown that the planet was conducive to microbial life in the distant past and had to be potentially habitable.