China's 1st Mars rover steps out to explore red planet

Chinas 1st Mars rover steps out to explore red planet

Beijing: China's first Mars rover on Saturday 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, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said. China's Tianwen-1 mission, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, was launched on July 23, 2020.

The lander carrying the rover touched down in the southern part of Utopia Planitia, a vast plain on the northern hemisphere of Mars, on May 15.

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.

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, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It carries various scientific instruments, including terrain camera, multi-spectral camera, subsurface exploration radar, surface-composition detector, magnetic-field detector and meteorology monitor.

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.

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.

Zhurong's six wheels are independently driven, according to its designers. The US has deployed five rovers on Mars, besides a helicopter.

The active suspension system of the rover could help it to get out of trouble by moving like an inchworm on the complicated Martian surface with both loose sandy soil and densely distributed rocks, said Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Tianwen-1 probe from the China Academy of Space Technology.

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