China's Zhurong Mars rover has completed all its predetermined tasks. Now, the China National Space Administration has sent the rover off to an "extended expedition." The rover will enter safe mode next month in anticipation of communication disruptions.
China Mars Rover Extends Mission After Outliving Its 3-Month Life Expectancy
The China Mars rover named Zhurong is the sixth Mars probe to move across the Red Planet's surface. The other five were from the United States, India Today said.
Zhurong landed on Mars on May 15, touching down cocooned inside the lander. It set off to perform its mission, separating from the landing platform a week later.
The 6-foot-tall or 1.85-meter-tall rover weighs 240-kilograms, carrying six scientific instruments aboard, and was expected to perform is predetermined tasks in three months before giving way to technical failures.
China's Mars rover #Zhurong had traveled more than 1,000 meters on the surface of the red planet as of Monday, the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said. pic.twitter.com/iBxbENikG8— libijian李碧建 (@libijian2) August 23, 2021
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) was pleased to announce that the rover outlived its life expectancy. Deciding it could still carry on, the CNSA extends the rover's expedition towards the coastal area Utopia Planitia, PC Mag explained.
Utopia Planitia is a massive plain found in what is considered the Solar System's largest recognized impact basin.
The orbiter has been passing over the rover's location on Mars once a day, relaying the information back to Earth.
Zhurong Will Take a Break, Entering Safe Mode Until Communication Will Get Back Up
Zhurong is a core component of Tianwen 1, China's first interplanetary mission. The rover has traversed almost 1,000 yards and was able to transmit 10 gigabytes worth of data back to Earth, Slash Gear said.
With the data received, China has shared images from its rover showing the rocky surface it is currently investigating. The rover has analyzed rocks and other features on the planet's ground, exploring what is believed to be the bottom of an ancient lake.
Along with Zhurong are NASA's Perseverance Rover and Curiosity Rover, the three are separated by thousands of kilometers, performing their missions solo. Ingenuity, the small helicopter, is closer in radius to Perseverance.
The CNSA is anticipating communication disruptions from mid-September to late October as the solar conjunction will prevent communications between Earth and Mars, Slash Gear explained. The solar conjunction is a phenomenon involving solar electromagnetic radiation that can disrupt inter-planetary communication.
Because of this, China says the orbiter and the rover will enter safe mode during that period. NASA will not be able to communicate with their rovers in that timeframe either.
Once communications are running again, the Chinese Mars rover will continue to travel towards a feature that mission controllers want to investigate. The "groove" feature is about a mile away from Zhurong's current location.
No further details have been released regarding Zhurong's new, extended mission but and it looks like the CNSA will continue to keep the rover in operation for as long as it continues to function.