Why did China’s Zhurong rover stop working before December 2022?


In May 2021, the first Chinese rover, the Zhurong, was delivered to Mars. It successfully made a soft landing on the Utopia Plain and a few days later sent images from the Red Planet back to Earth.

On them one could see parts of the apparatus standing on the landing platform, as well as the surface of the planet, which is covered with sand and small stones.

The pictures showed that it was able to open the solar panels and antennas – the success of the mission directly depended on this.

Together with it, the Tianwen-1 interplanetary station was sent towards Mars , which is currently in orbit of the planet and studying its surface using built-in equipment.

Recently, scientists compared images from the last two months and decided that they needed a few monthsput the Zhurong rover into sleep mode . But why do we need such urgent measures?


Putting the Zhurong rover into sleep mode

The fact that the Zhurong rover needed a temporary shutdown became clear after the discovery of a strong dust storm in its research area. Bad weather conditions in the Utopia Plain are clearly visible in the latest Tianwen-1 satellite imagery.

In addition, Zhurong itself sent data hinting that it began to receive less energy from the Sun. This means that its solar panels are covered with a layer of sand and will soon completely stop generating energy.

If the charge is completely over, it is unlikely that it will be possible to restore its work.

Interplanetary station “Tianwen-1”

In addition, at the moment, the winter season is slowly coming to Mars. While the average temperature on the planet is about -60 degrees, frosts up to -125 degrees can occur in winter.

Mars is already much colder than usual. According to scientists, closer to July, the temperature will drop even more, and you need to be prepared for this.

In order for the Zhurong apparatus to save energy and be able to continue working, it was transferred to sleep mode.

Most likely, it will last until December 2022. Then spring will already begin on Mars and the rover can already be returned to working condition.

Achievements of the rover “Zhurong”

You might think that the apparatus “Zhurong” could not work. But this is not so – by January 2022, it covered about 1,400 kilometers.

All this time, it was sending photographs and other data about the surface of the planet to Chinese scientists.

At the moment, nothing is known about the results of their study, because this process takes a long time. Most likely, we will learn about the new discoveries of Chinese researchers a little later.

Plain of Utopia on the map of the lowlands of Mars

In general, the Zhurong rover has already done everything that was required of it. Initially it was assumed that it would work 90 Martian days.

It completed his mission on August 15, 2021 and has been working overtime ever since. All this time it studied the bowels of the planet, the magnetic field, wind, soil composition and other properties of Mars.

To do this, it is equipped with six scientific instruments:

  • ground penetrating radar to study the soil to a depth of 100 meters;
  • magnetic field detector;
  • a set of instruments for measuring air temperature and wind speed, as well as recording sounds;
  • tools for studying the composition of the Martian soil;
  • camera for taking photos;
  • camera for navigation and creating topographic maps.

It turns out that in the near future you should not expect news from the Zhurong rover. Unless, scientists can share the results of studying the data sent earlier.

But the Tianwen-1 orbiter will continue its work, because the weather on the surface of the planet will not affect it in any way.

What else will we learn about Mars? Time will tell

How will rovers survive the winter on Mars?

It’s worth noting that China’s Zhurong rover isn’t the only one that could be hit hard by winter on Mars. The Ingenuity helicopter is also in a dangerous situation, which has already managed to lose contact with the Earth.

To prevent it from breaking down due to dust storms, NASA experts sent commands to save energy.

Most likely, battery savings will be achieved by reducing the operation of heaters. You can read more about the measures taken to protect the companion of the Perseverance rover in this article .

Mars Helicopter Ingenuity