China’s Tianwen-1 Mars mission, which has the ‘Zhurong rover’ on board, has been going about its work, smoothly functioning on the surface of Mars. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) released a video series captured by Zhurong on the surface of Mars, including a 23-second clip of the rover's descent to the surface.
One of the videos captured the rapid deceleration of the lander which encased the Zhurong rover before it settled on the surface of Mars. The video, which showed elements of the surface of Mars, also captured how a parachute was deployed to help with the landing.
The Tianwen-1 mission, launched by the CNSA on July 23, 2020, comprises a robotic spacecraft that contains an orbiter, a lander, and the rover named Zhurong.
After seven months of its journey, the spacecraft finally entered the Martian orbit on February 10, 2021. Thereafter, the probe surveyed the area to find out the safest spot where the rover could land. This process continued for three months and on May 15, the lander touched the Martian surface. On May 22, the Zhurong rover drove onto the surface of the planet. China thus marked itself out as the third nation to make a soft landing on Mars and establishing communication from its surface after the erstwhile Soviet Union and the USA.
The Chinese rover landed on Utopia Planitia, a region in the northern hemisphere of the planet. Zhurong is equipped with six scientific instruments – ground-penetrating radar with a capacity of imaging about 100 metres below the surface of Mars; a surface magnetic field detector; Mars climate station including thermometre, anemometre (a device to measure wind speed and direction), and a pressure sensor; Mars surface compound detector (this instrument has infrared spectroscopy and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy); multi-spectrum cameras, and navigation and topography cameras.
The second video released by CNSA showed when Zhurong ‘rolled off a ramp over the landing platform’. A microphone recorded the sound made by the electric motors and rolling of the rover's wheels.
According to David Flannery, an astrobiologist with the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, and a member of the team working on NASA’s Perseverance rover, the video footage has valuabe data. “...the sounds from Zhurong are intriguing because Perseverance also has a microphone, and the researchers are trying to correlate audio it detects with data from the rover’s weather station to study wind patterns,” he said.
On June 1, Zhurong dropped a wireless camera to the ground and took a selfie of the rover along with the lander. The third clip of footage documents the reversing and manoeuvring of Zhurong.
CNSA said that Zhurong had traversed 236 meters on Mars so far. This is a significant distance traversed by a rover for a first mission. NASA’s first Mars rover, Sojourner, could traverse only 100 meters in total. The Sojourner landed on the surface of Mars in 1997.