China’s first Mars rover drove down from its landing platform to the Martian surface to start exploring the surface of the red planet. The six-wheeled solar-powered rover named Zhurong, resembling a blue butterfly and with a mass of 240 kg, slowly trundled off a ramp on the lander to hit the red, sandy soil of Mars, starting its journey to explore the fourth planet from the Sun.

What

  1. China’s Tianwen-1 mission, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, was launched on 23 July 2020.
  2. The lander carrying the rover touched down in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars, on 15 May 2021.
  3. Chinese spacecraft landed on Mars three months after the successful landing of the US space agency NASA’s Perseverance rover which is busy exploring the red planet’s surface with a helicopter hovering around.
  4. With an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on the Earth), Zhurong will record the Martian landscape with high-resolution three-dimensional images, analyse the material composition of the planet’s surface, detect its subsurface structure and magnetic field, search for traces of water, ice and observe the surrounding meteorological environment.
  5. It carries various scientific instruments, including terrain camera, multi-spectral camera, subsurface exploration radar, surface-composition detector, magnetic-field detector and meteorology monitor.
  6. The orbiter, with a design life of one Martian year (about 687 days on the Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific detection operations.
  7. Compared with China’s lunar rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit), Zhurong has a similar speed of about 200 meters per hour, but the height of the obstacles it can surmount increased from 20 cm to 30 cm. It can climb slopes up to 20 degrees.
  8. Zhurong’s solar panels were specially designed to adapt to the sunlight on Mars, which has a spectrum different from that on the Earth’s orbit.