China’s Zhurong Drives on Mars

China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, has driven down from its landing platform to the Martian surface, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announced on Saturday.

Zhurong’s first successful drive made China the second country after the United States to land and operate a rover on Mars.

According to the telemetry data, Zhurong set its wheels on Martian soil at 10:40 a.m. (Beijing Time) on Saturday, the 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.

The six-wheeled solar-powered rover, resembling a blue butterfly and with a mass of 240 kg, is named after the god of fire in ancient Chinese mythology. The name echoes with the Chinese name for the red planet, Huoxing (the planet of fire), while the name of the mission, Tianwen, means Questions to Heaven, the title of a poem by the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan (circa 340-278 BC).

With an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), Zhurong will record the Martian landscape with high-resolution three-dimensional images, analyze the material composition of the planet’s surface, detect its sub-surface structure and magnetic field, search for traces of water ice and observe the surrounding meteorological environment.

It carries various scientific instruments, including terrain camera, multi-spectral camera, sub-surface 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 Earth), will relay communications for the rover while conducting its own scientific detection operations.