China in trouble: Contact with the Zhurong rover from Mars was lost

The Zhurong is the Chinese rover that transits the Martian surface.

After a period of hibernation, China has still not been able to establish contact with the device.

China ‘s Tianwen-1 space mission to Mars  is in trouble after the national space agency is unable to establish communication with its Zhurong rover .

The report comes from the South China Morning Post and notes that ground teams have failed to receive any signal from the robot that allegedly came out of hibernation in December.

China, Mars and more problems

The Zhurong rover landed in the Utopia Planitia region of Mars in May 2021, but entered a hibernation period to cope with winter, when temperatures and solar radiation levels are too low for the solar-powered rover to function.

The rover was expected to resume its activities autonomously once it can generate enough power from solar energy and when temperatures reach around minus 15 degrees Celsius.

According to China’s Lunar Exploration Program, Zhurong entered this state after the autumnal equinox at the end of February, at an average temperature of -20°. Temperatures should improve from the spring equinox, from December 26.

But the media sources point out that there has been no communication with China since the opening of the window for the resumption of functions. Even the Tiawen-1 orbiter is trying to contact the rover, but it too has problems doing so.

Possible causes

One of the theories in this regard is that Zhurong may have been affected by sandstorms that could have affected his solar panels ( as in the case of InSight ).

Zhurong has active means to remove dust from its four butterfly-wing solar arrays, but it would not be able to perform this operation while hibernating. The arrays are also dust-coated and can be tilted to maximize light collection.

Zhurong had a primary mission lifetime of three Earth months, but operated for just over an Earth year on Utopia Planitia, traveling at least 1,921 meters south from his landing site. She was looking for geomorphic targets like mud volcanoes during her extended mission.