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China’s rover may have gone quiet on dusty Mars

China’s rover may have gone quiet on dusty Mars

China's rover may have gone quiet on dusty Mars

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This story is part Welcome to Marsour series exploring the red planet.

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The future of the charismatic Chinese rover Zhurong Mars is uncertain. The little the solar-powered rover went into hibernation in May 2022 due to an intense Martian dust storm. It was expected to wake up in December to warmer, less dusty conditions, but there’s been no confirmation that it’s still working.

The China National Space Administration rover touched down on the surface of Mars in May 2021 as part of the Tianwen-1 mission, which also included an orbiter and lander. Andrew Jones, a journalist specializing in the Chinese space program, reported in SpaceNews on Monday that the mission could be in trouble and that Zhurong could be lost.

Details on the current status of the mission are sketchy, which is not unusual for China’s space program. The South China Morning Post cited unnamed sources as saying scientists were still waiting for a signal from the rover and hoped the Tianwen-1 orbiter could capture images from orbit.

There have been some questions about Tianwen-1 and if communications are working properly with the orbiter. Jones shared a short update from the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology stating that the spacecraft is operating normally.

The concern for the mission will persist until a more comprehensive update comes out.

Zhurong is located in a plains area called Utopia Planitia. The rover delivered a cute selfie and traveled more than a mile across the surface of the planet. This historic mission made China the only country besides the United States to operate a rover on Mars.

Even if Tianwen-1 and Zhurong never contact Earth again, the mission will still be considered a success. The rover easily survived its original life expectancy of three months and got a mission extension. If dust is the ultimate culprit in her demise, she’ll be in good company with NASA’s Opportunity rover and InSight Lander.

Mars is a tough place for a machine, especially if it needs sunlight to keep running.

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