China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, with a mass of 240 kg, drove down from its landing platform to the Martian surface Saturday. China is now the second country after the United States to land and operate a rover on Mars. 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. With an expected lifespan of at least 90 Martian days (about three months on Earth), Zhurong has multiple goals to achieve. It will record the Martian landscape with high-resolution three-dimensional images,will analyze the material composition of the planet’s surface, will detect its sub-surface structure and magnetic field, will search for traces of water ice and will observe the surrounding meteorological environment.
Zhurong has a speed of about 200 meters per hour. It has six wheels independently driven and can climb slopes up to 20 degrees. Zhurong is the first Mars rover with an active suspension system. The solar panels are rotatable to follow the sun. They were specially designed to adapt to the sunlight on Mars. Data collected by Zhurong will be sent back to Earth through the Tianwen-1 orbiter. Last week, China released the rover’s first pictures from Mars. China has ambitious space plans that include launching a crewed orbital station and landing a human on the moon.