Chinese rover Zhurong is about to land on Mars

Artist's impression of the Tianwen-1 lander.

Artist’s impression of the Tianwen-1 lander.
Picture: Xinhua

Later today, China will try become the second country to succeed deploy a probe on Mars. Here’s what we know about this historic mission and how China will attempt to overcome its own “seven minutes of terror”.

After months of waiting, the cat is finally out of the bag. China’s secret space agency had been quiet about the time of the landing, but Chinese Academy of Sciences fellow Ye Peijian disclosed information at a conference in Beijing yesterday, saying the new rover will hit the Martian surface on Saturday, May 15 at 7:11 a.m. local time (Friday, May 14 at 7:11 p.m. EDT / 11:11 UTC).

The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) does not usually live-stream its space activities, so we’ll just have to wait for its official confirmation shortly after the scheduled landing time.

Launched in July 2020, the Chinese probe Tianwen-1 reached the Red Planet on February 24, where he was in orbit since. The probe, which also deployed an orbiter, is now set to sending a lander carrying the six-wheeled rover.

Protected by a heat shield, the lander will reach the Martian atmosphere at a speed of up to 4 km / s, followed by “seven minutes of terror” – a phase where mission controllers cannot react quickly enough given the huge distance involved. (it takes almost 18 minutes for radio signals to reach Mars).

The lander will “use two reliable technologies: a laser range finder to determine where it is in relation to Martian terrain and a microwave sensor to determine its speed more precisely,” says Deep Bandivadekar, a doctoral student at the University of Strathclyde, in a Publish published in The Conversation. “These will be used for correcting navigation during its parachuted descent phase. During the motorized descent phase at the end, optical and lidar imaging will aid in hazard detection. “

Representation of the Zhurong rover and its instruments.

Representation of the Zhurong rover and its instruments.
Picture: Zou Yongliao et al., 2021 / Progress in space research

After landing Utopia Planitia, the craft will deploy a ramp that the 530-pound (240 kg) rover will use to reach the surface. The Zhurong Mars rover, whose name translates to “god of fire”, will spend the next three months using his various scientific instruments to study Martian regolith, rocks, geology and atmosphere. The rover will also look for signs of groundwater ice. This is now Utopia Planitia’s second mission, the previous one being that of NASA. Viking Lander 2 in 1976.

If the landing is successful, China will only be the second country to land a working probe on Mars, with the United States the other. Some might quibble, and include the Soviet lander Mars 3, which soft landing on Mars in 1971 (the very first soft landing on Mars, to give them credit), but it managed to transmit data for just two minutes before shutting down permanently (the probe managed to send a single gray image with no details). A total of nine NASA missions have reached the Martian surface since 1976. The European Space Agency attempted to land a rover as part of its ExoMars 2016 mission, but the Schiaparelli lander crushed due to a software error.

With NASA’s Perseverance rover and the UAE Hope probe, the Tianwen-1 mission is one of three missions to reach Mars this year. If successful, Zhurong will join Perseverance (with his helicopter), the Curiosity rover and the InSight stationary probe to conduct science activities. on the Martian surface.

After: Five things to know about the UAE’s first mission to Mars.

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