If on the Red Planet NASA takes center stage with the exploits of its helicopter, China should soon steal the show. In two or three weeks, or even a few days, the Zhurong rover is expected to land on Mars. He is currently aboard the Tianwen-1 probe, which is working to locate the best place to land it.
While all eyes are on the ongoing Perseverance mission and NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter , let’s not forget that China is preparing to land on the Red Planet. In orbit since February 10 around the planet, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 is preparing the landing of the Zhurong rover on a date that has not yet been made public but which is believed to be between mid-May and early June. If all goes according to plan, China would become the second country, after the United States, to land a rover on Mars. Note that the former USSR did succeed in landing a rover on the Red Planet in 1971, but the latter only operated for a few tens of seconds (March 3).
In order for the Zhurong rover to land safely in the southern part of Utopia Planitia , a detailed analysis of its landing site is required. Indeed, you should know that the Chinese Space Agency, unlike NASA or ESA , does not have a high resolution map of the planet Mars. Thus, NASA’s MRO orbit (and its Hirise camera) was able to provide very detailed maps, only a few tens of centimeters in resolution, of the Perseverance landing site .well before its launch. The Tianwen-1 probe is currently mapping the region to draw the most detailed maps possible. The goal is to locate the most suitable place to land the rover safely in an environment not too crowded with large rocks and as flat as possible.
An ambitious rover
The approximately 250- kilogram rover is larger than NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers but about a quarter the size of Curiosity and Perseverance. Equipped with six motorized wheels that will allow it to move like a crab, Zhurong will be able to travel up to 200 meters per hour. It carries six instruments, including a laser camera very similar to the ChemCam instrument of the American rover Curiosity. Added to this are optical cameras, a radar to probe the subsoil, a spectrometer , a magnetometer and a meteorological station (measurements of temperature, pressure and windespecially). Its four solar panels will produce the energy necessary for its operation, which is expected to last more or less 90 days. The data will be relayed by the Tianwen-1 orbiter, or even the European Space Agency’s Mars Express probe if China so requests.