Lander and Zhurong Mars rover.
Credit: CNSA/Inside Outer Space screengrab


Following Earth-Mars solar conjunction, China’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter has resumed communications, ready to re-start remote sensing of the Red Planet in early November,

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said Friday that the orbiter was in normal condition during the solar conjunction, successfully surviving the conjunction.

CNSA stated that the orbiter will enter a remote-sensing orbit of Mars in early November to carry out global detection and obtain scientific data. The Tianwen-1 orbiter will scope out morphology and geological structure, surface material composition and soil type distribution on Mars, and also gauge the atmospheric ionosphere, and space environment of the planet.

Credit: CNSA

Rover duties

Furthermore, the Mars-circling craft is ready to relay communication between the Zhurong rover and Earth for extended mission duties, according to Zhang Rongqiao, the Tianwen-1 mission’s chief designer.

Mission controllers have reestablished their tracking, communication and control of the orbiter and rover, which had been in normal condition during the recent “Sun outage” period that started in mid-September.

China’s Zhurong rover.
Credit: Liang Ding, et al.

China’s Zhurong rover is slated to continue its travels south toward an ancient coastal area within its exploration zone of Utopia Planitia. Prior to the suspension of its rolling over the Red Planet, Zhurong had traveled nearly 3,609 feet (1,100 meters) on the Martian surface and was in good condition with sufficient energy, Zhang said.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space Screengrab

Safe mode

Due to solar conjunction, the wheeled rover and orbiter were put into “safe mode,” pausing their tasks and autonomously carried out health assessments, self-monitoring and troubleshooting.

Tianwen-1 was launched on July 23, 2020 from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province, entering Martian orbit on February 10, 2021. Zhurong touched down on the planet on May 15, driving off its landing platform the following week.

Once in operation, Zhurong joins two NASA rovers, Curiosity and Perseverance, as well as the NASA InSight lander, to continue their respective Mars exploration agendas.

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