Chinese, European Mars probes complete in-orbit relay communication test
China's Mars probe Tianwen-1 and the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Mars Express spacecraft have successfully performed an in-orbit relay communication test, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) said on Wednesday.
China's Mars rover Zhurong sent test data to Mars Express over a distance of approximately 4,000 kilometers. The communication lasted 10 minutes.
Mars Express received the data and forwarded it to the ESA's deep space tracking station. After receiving the data, the station sent it to the European Space Operations Center (ESOC), and the ESOC then forwarded the data to the Beijing Aerospace Control Center.
Data analysis results show that the relay communication equipment interfaces of Zhurong and Mars Express match and conform to international standards, and the contents of the transmitted data are complete and correct.
The Tianwen-1 team and the Mars Express team will undertake further cooperation in scientific data relay communication, according to the CNSA. Enditem
A one-way phone call at Mars
This November, ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft carried out a series of experimental communication tests with the Chinese (CNSA) Zhurong Mars rover. Mars Express successfully caught data sent up ‘in the blind’ by the rover and relayed them to Earth where they were forwarded to the Zhurong team in China.
13:07 CET, 7 November, Utopia Planitia. The Zhurong rover, commanded by the Tianwen-1 orbiter, points its radio up at the Martian sky. Any minute now, ESA’s Mars Express will begin to pass overhead. Zhurong starts transmitting a signal up into space. It has no way of knowing if its message is being received.
Landers and rovers on Mars gather data that help scientists answer fundamental questions about the geology, atmosphere, surface environment, history of water and potential for life on the Red Planet.
To get these insights to Earth, they first transmit the data up to spacecraft in orbit around Mars. These orbiters then use their much larger, more powerful transmitters to ‘relay’ the data across space to Earth.
“Normally, an orbiter like ESA’s Mars Express first sends down a hail signal to a rover as a ‘hello’,” says James Godfrey, Mars Express Spacecraft Operations Manager.
“The rover then sends back a response to establish stable communications and begin the two-way exchange of information. But this relies on the rover’s radio system being compatible with the orbiter’s.”
As Mars Express transmits its ‘hello’ signal using communication frequencies that are different from those the Chinese Zhurong Mars rover receives, two-way communication is not possible.
But in the other direction, Zhurong can transmit a signal using a frequency that Mars Express can receive.
The relay radio on Mars Express has a mode that allows this one-way communication – communication ‘in the blind’ where the sender can’t be sure if their signal is being received – but until now, the technique hadn’t been tested on the spacecraft.
In November, ESA’s Mars Express and CNSA’s Zhurong teams carried out a series of experimental communication tests in which Mars Express used this ‘in the blind’ mode to listen for signals sent to it by the Zhurong Rover.
The experiments culminated in a successful test on 20 November.
“Mars Express successfully received the signals sent by the rover, and our colleagues in the Zhurong team confirmed that all the data arrived on Earth in very good quality.” says ESA’s Gerhard Billig.
“We’re looking forward to carrying out more tests in the future to continue to experiment and further improve this method of communicating between space missions.”
The data relayed by Mars Express arrived on Earth at ESA’s ESOC space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany, via deep-space communication antennas. From there, these data were forwarded to the Zhurong team at the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center, who confirmed the success of the test.
China releases new Mars images on New Year's Day
Photo released on Jan. 1, 2022 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) shows the surface landscape taken by the rover Zhurong. (CNSA/Handout via Xinhua)
China released on the first day of 2022 a group of new Mars images taken by the Tianwen-1 probe.
These new images showed diverse working conditions of the probe's orbiter and rover, as well as the Mars surface topography obtained by them, said the China National Space Administration.
The images include the group photo of the orbiter and Mars, closeup of the orbiter, ice sheet on Mars' north pole area, surface landscape taken by the rover Zhurong.
China's Tianwen-1 mission, consisting of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, was launched on July 23, 2020. Enditem
Photo released on Jan. 1, 2022 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) shows the group photo of the orbiter and Mars. (CNSA/Handout via Xinhua)
Photo released on Jan. 1, 2022 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) shows the ice sheet on Mars' north pole area. (CNSA/Handout via Xinhua)
Photo released on Jan. 1, 2022 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) shows the closeup of the orbiter. (CNSA/Handout via Xinhua)
China releases video of spacecraft orbiting Mars for Lunar New Year
Ride along in the Red Planet’s orbit
China’s first Mars orbiter, Tianwen-1, is showing off its journey around the Red Planet in a newly released selfie video ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year. The brief clip, released Monday by the China National Space Administration, shows a good portion of the spacecraft’s body, engines, and solar array zooming through space, with portions of Mars’ surface appearing in the background.
Typically, China is fairly opaque when it comes to its spaceflight missions, releasing only limited information about launches and its spacecraft. But the country has released some enticing pictures of the Tianwen-1 mission recently. This isn’t even Tianwen-1’s first selfie. In early January, the orbiter released a small spacecraft with a camera onboard, which snapped pictures of Tianwen-1 with a very large Mars in the background. Tianwen-1 also captured a picture of itself during its transit to Mars by releasing another spacecraft with a camera on it that captured the vehicle encased in its protective shell. This recent video was taken by a camera attached to Tianwen-1.
China's Zhurong rover reveals how weather and ancient water altered rocks on Mars
Researchers found grooves and etchings on rocks around Zhurong's landing site.
China's Zhurong Mars rover captured this panorama of the Red Planet. Visible in the foreground are the rover's solar panels and communications equipment.(Image credit: CNSA)
China’s first Mars rover reveals how weather and ancient water changed the surface of the largest impact basin on Mars.
China's Zhurong rover landed in the Utopia Planitia, a 2,000-miles-wide (3,300 kilometers) basin in the Northern Hemisphere of Mars, in May 2021. Since then, the rover has been studying local geology, chemical composition of rocks, and local weather conditions using its six scientific instruments.
A new study based on data from Zhurong’s first 60 sols (roughly 62 Earth days) on the planet reveals how weather and interaction with water altered the rocks around Zhurong's landing site over millions of years.
In the study, a team of researchers led by Liang Ding of the Harbin Institute of Technology in Northeast China, used images from the rover’s Navigation and Topography Cameras (NaTeCam) to look at the structure of the rocks. In many of the studied rocks, the researchers found grooves and etchings from particles carried by wind, but also flakes which appear to be evidence of interactions with water or brines.
"The rock textures observed at the site thus far may indicate both the presence of physical weathering – for example, impact sputtering, wind erosion and potential freeze–thaw weathering – and aqueous interactions involving salt and brine," the authors said in the paper, adding that the site offers opportunities for follow-up investigations.
"These rock and soil targets provide excellent opportunities to peek into the aqueous history and climate evolution of the northern lowlands, and shed light on the habitability evolution of Mars."
Kirsten Siebach, an assistant professor at the Rice University Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences, agrees with the assessment by the Chinese team.
"It looks like there's surface evidence for something like a contraction-expansion process, which can be from brine or a freeze/thaw effect or really significant temperature changes," she told Space.com. "That causes the rocks to kind of flake apart. This is consistent with what we've seen at other landing sites on Mars where the rocks are exposed differently than on Earth."
Chemistry data would help provide more information on what has been going on in the area. Zhurong has a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument which could fire its laser to create a tiny amount of plasma from the target and analyze its composition. The new paper does not make use of any LIBS data, nor states if it was collected from the rock specimens.
Siebach also underlines the value of having images and data from a new landing site on Mars.
"By having 9 to 10 landing sites across the surface of Mars, we're starting to get a better sense for what processes are relatively or seem to be global," Siebach said.
Siebach notes that the paper contains a lot of valuable information on the physics of the soil and how the ground reacts to the rover driving over it and its landing equipment. "This is actually really important if you want to land there with humans."
China is planning a Mars sample return mission, potentially launching in 2028, but has not yet released information on candidate landing sites.
NASA’s Viking 2 lander set down in northern Utopia Planitia in 1976 among numerous rocks, while Zhurong is operating in much less complicated terrain.
Zhurong has already completed its primary mission of 90 sols. But the rover is continuing its way to the south of its landing site, collecting data as it goes.
Meanwhile the Tianwen 1 orbiter which carried Zhurong from Earth to Marsmarked its first anniversary in orbit around the Red Planet on Feb. 10. The orbiter began its dedicated science mission back in November while also helping to relay data from the rover back to Earth.
The paper was published on Tuesday (March 7) in the journal Nature Geoscience.
Tracks of China's Zhurong Mars rover spotted by NASA orbiter (photo)
Zhurong's 10-month journey is visible from Mars orbit.
The HiRISE camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of China's Zhurong rover on the Martian surface on March 11, 2022.(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona)
A NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars has spotted China's Zhurong rover down on the surface, providing an epic overview of the vehicle's travels through the red dirt.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured the image of Zhurong on March 11, according to a post from the researchers behind MRO's powerful HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera.
Despite MRO orbiting 179 miles (288 kilometers) above, HiRISE managed to pick up the roughly 0.93 miles (1.5 km) of tracks that Zhurong has made journeying south since landing in May 2021, a cutout image with increased contrast shows.
This zoomed-in section of HiRISE's imagery of China's Mars rover Zhurong and its tracks, captured on March 11, 2022, shows that the rover inspected the backshell and parachute that helped it land safely in May 2021. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona)
The photo shows that the rover visited the parachute and backshell that slowed Zhurong's descent through the thin Martian atmosphere while also surveying surface features, including dunes.
Zhurong is part of China's Tianwen 1 mission, which also includes an orbiter. Last month, that orbiter marked a full (Earth) year of circling the Red Planet. (Zhurong stayed attached to the orbiter for several months before separating for its May 2021 touchdown.)
China releases images of Martian dust taken by Tianwen-1 orbiter
China's Tianwen-1 orbiter has beamed back high-resolution images of Mars, showing dust storms on the surface of the planet.
Released by the China National Space Administration on Thursday, the new pictures with a resolution of 0.5 meters were captured by a camera on the probe, which has been operating in orbit for 609 days at a distance of 277 million km from Earth.
Track marks left by Mars rover Zhurong can be seen in the pictures. With its 306 Martian days of service, the rover has traveled a total of 1,784 meters on the planet.
Zhurong also snapped selfies from Mars. Compared with the images taken shortly after it landed on the planet, the new photos showed a layer of dust accumulated on its surface.
Dust can reduce rovers' power supply. Chinese scientists have specially designed the rover's solar wing to offset the efficiency decline caused by dust coverage.
The rover now has sufficient energy to continue its exploration on Mars, the Chinese space administration said in a statement.
The Tianwen-1 orbiter has monitored dust activities in the northern hemisphere of Mars since late January and sent back pictures of regional dust storms in February. No obvious dusty weather has been observed in the Zhurong rover's inspection area, according to the administration.
A rare update from China on the Tianwen-1 mission, with a nice comparison of Zhurong images from Sol 5 (May 2021) and Sol 247 (Jan. 22), showing the accumulation of dust on the rover body and solar panels [CNSA/PEC]
China's Zhurong travels over 1.9 km on Mars
The Mars rover Zhurong has traveled more than 1.9 km since it first set its wheels on the surface of the planet in May last year, according to the latest data released by the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.
As of Sunday, Zhurong had been operating on the surface of Mars for 342 Martian days at a distance of 240 million km from Earth. A Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.
Zhurong touched down on the Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars, on May 15, 2021. Since then, it has collected surface rock samples and captured images while exploring the planet.
Mars is about to enter the winter season, during which night temperatures will drop below minus 100 degrees Celsius, with a high probability of sandstorms. Martian winters last an equivalent of six Earth months.
Scientists have made special designs on the Zhurong rover, including low temperature resistance, sand resistance, power security and other features, to ensure the safe conduct of the Mars patrol and exploration process.
The Chinese space administration also disclosed that lunar rover Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2, has been working for 42 lunar days and moved 1,181 meters on the moon surface.
China's Chang'e-4 probe, including a lander and Yutu-2 launched on Dec. 8, 2018, made the first-ever soft landing on the Von Karman Crater in the South Pole-Aitken Basin on the far side of the moon on Jan. 3, 2019.
China's Mars rover finds water evidence on the red planet: study
Chinese scientists have found new evidence that there was water on Mars in the past and there are hydrated minerals on the red planet, which can be potentially exploited during future crewed Mars missions.
The study published on Thursday in the journal Science Advances revealed that a large impact basin on Mars contained liquid water during the Amazonian epoch, the planet's most recent geologic epoch.
The findings contribute to a growing body of telltale signs that suggests liquid water activities may have persisted much longer on Mars than previously thought.
The study also indicated that in this particular site, there are currently considerable stores of water in the form of hydrated minerals and possibly ground ice.
The researchers led by those from the National Space Science Center under the Chinese Academy of Sciences used data gathered by China's Mars rover Zhurong on the sedimentary and mineral characteristics of southern Utopia Planitia, a vast plain in the northern hemisphere of Mars.
They interpreted the bright-toned rocks Zhurong's camera caught as a layer of "duricrust" that would have been sculpted by a substantial quantity of liquid water, perhaps rising groundwater or melting subsurface ice.
That solid sulfate mineral crust contrasts with thinner, weaker duricrusts observed by other Mars rovers, which may have formed through the actions of water vapor, according to the study.
Another Chinese study published in March in the journal Nature Geoscience also revealed that the site where Zhurong landed might have experienced wind and possibly water erosion.
China Focus: Tianwen-1 mission marks first year on Mars
It has been a year since China's Tianwen-1 probe reached Mars. The mission has not only marked an important step in the country's interplanetary exploration but has also made a number of achievements in that time.
The Tianwen-1 probe consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover. On May 15, 2021, it touched down at its pre-selected landing area in Utopia Planitia, a vast Martian plain, marking the first time that China has landed a probe on the planet.
A week later on May 22, 2021, the Mars rover Zhurong, which resembles a butterfly, drove down from its landing platform to the Martian surface. On June 11, the China National Space Administration released the first photographs taken by Zhurong, signifying a complete success in the country's first Mars exploration mission.
Since landing, Zhurong has continued moving southward and transmitted data back to Earth. It has completed explorations of the Martian surface, passed through multiple complex terrains, and detected Martian rocks, sand dunes and impact craters, obtaining a large amount of data using its onboard scientific equipment.
By Aug. 15, 2021, Zhurong had worked on the planet's surface for 90 Martian days, or about 92 days on Earth, accomplishing all exploration and detection tasks as planned. It was in good condition and continued service despite reaching its planned working target of 90 days.
From mid-September to late October last year, the Mars orbiter and Zhurong suspended their explorations and relied on their own autonomous systems to survive their first solar outage, during which time solar electromagnetic radiation increased and disrupted communication between the probe and Earth.
In November 2021, Zhurong and the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft performed an in-orbit relay communication test.
In May this year, using data gathered by Zhurong on the landing site, Chinese scientists found new evidence suggesting the presence of liquid water activity and hydrated minerals on the red planet.
By May 5, 2022, the Tianwen-1 orbiter had been operating for 651 days at a distance of 240 million kilometers from Earth. Zhurong had been working for 347 Martian days and traveled 1,921 meters. The orbiter and rover, operating normally, had obtained approximately 940 gigabytes of data.
The Tianwen-1 mission is only the beginning of China's planetary exploration, and many new endeavors are in the pipeline.
According to a white paper titled "China's Space Program: A 2021 Perspective," the country will continue its lunar exploration with the future Chang'e-6, Chang'e-7 and Chang'e-8 missions. It will complete the construction of an international lunar research station together with other countries, global organizations and partners.
Future plans also include launching an asteroid probe, retrieving samples from near-Earth asteroids, and retrieving samples from Mars.
The Tianwen-2 probe has entered the preliminary prototype development stage.
Quelle: Xinhua ---- Update: 20.05.2022 .
China's Zhurong rover switches to dormant mode in severe Martian dust storm
Mars rover Zhurong has been switched to dormant mode while waiting out a dust storm on the surface of the planet, the China National Space Administration said on Friday.
The latest images taken by cameras onboard China's Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter show a dust storm passing over the patrol area of Zhurong. Scientists compared them with photos taken in the last two months and analyzed recent power data of the rover's solar wings, which indicated Zhurong now braving an intense Martian dust storm.
According to the administration, the patrol area of Zhurong has entered the winter season, during which the daytime temperatures can drop below minus 20 degrees Celsius, while the night below minus 100 degrees Celsius. By mid-July, the temperatures will fall further.
To tackle the dust storms and low-temperature challenges, the Chinese rover went into dormancy on Wednesday. It is expected to wake up and resume work in December when the dust clears and Mars enters its spring season, the administration said in a statement.
Scientists will continue to use the Tianwen-1 orbiter to monitor the weather on Mars' southern hemisphere. Quelle: Xinhua