The highly-secretive China National Space Administration released five new images of Mars taken by its Zhurong rover on Friday, including rocks on the Martian surface and the vehicle’s tire tracks.
The first image, taken on June 26, shows the Martian landscape with what appears to be the surface component detector and the climate detector from the rover as it traverses Utopia Planitia, a vast northern lava plain on the Red Planet.
The second image, snapped on July 4, the rover’s 48th day on the planet, also shows the Martian surface.
The third and fourth images both show rocks on the surface, as well as what appears to be tire tracks left by the rover in its wake.
The final color image also shows tire tracks, as well as the rover’s solar panels and antenna.
The image release comes to some surprise, given that China’s space agency has been coy about the plans for Zhurong. There are also concerns from the US government about China’s broader intentions for its space program, and if there are any military connections.
Zhurong successfully touched down on Utopia Planitia, a vast northern lava plain on the Red Planet on May 15.
The first image, taken on June 26, shows the Martian landscape with what appears to be the surface component detector and the climate detector from the rover as it traverses Mars
The second image, snapped on July 4, the rover’s 48th day on the planet, also shows the Martian surface
It left from Earth in July 2020, inside China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft, which entered Martian orbit in February.
Named after the Chinese god of fire, Zhurong has spent 54 days on Mars, having traveled more than 300 meters (984ft), according to Chinese news service CGTN.
During its time on the Red Planet, Zhurong has been traveling south and conduction detections, using its navigation camera to take pictures of the Martian landscape.
It has used its surface-search radar, meteorology monitor and magnetic field detector instruments to conduct scientific experiments, CGTN added.
The third image (released July 9) shows rocks on the surface on Mars as the rover has traveled more than 300 meters since landing in mid-May
The fourth image (released July 9), also shows rocks on the surface, as well as what appears to be tire tracks left by the rover in its wake
The final color image also shows tire tracks, as well as the rover’s solar panels and antenna and the Martian landscape
Zhurong’s touched down at 7:18am Beijing time on May 15 (12:18am BST), although more than an hour passed before ground controllers could confirm the landing was a success, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
Chinese officials are using the rover, named after the Chinese god of fire, to analyze Martian soil and atmosphere, capture images, chart maps and look for water and signs of ancient life.
The rover has a number of instruments on it and is able to communicate with Earth via the Tianwen-1 orbiter, which has a ‘high speed data relay.’
In addition, it also has a number of other tools, including Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) imagined up to 330ft below the surface of Mars; Mars Surface Magnetic Field Detector (MSMFD) to find evidence of a magnetic field and track it; and Mars Meteorological Measurement Instrument (MMMI) to study the Martian weather on the Red Planet.
Other instruments, such as Mars Surface Compound Detector (MSCD), Multi-Spectrum Camera (MSC) and Navigation and Topography Camera (NTC) measure chemical composition of rocks, image light wavelengths and capture images and map the surface, respectively.
Chinese officials are using the rover to analyze Martian soil and atmosphere, capture images, chart maps and look for water and signs of ancient life
The lander carrying Zhurong completed the treacherous descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the ‘seven minutes of terror’ as it is known.
The complicated landing process is known as such because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, meaning communications are limited.
Zhurong’s touchdown made China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars – a feat unmatched by the only other two nations to reach the Red Planet so far (the US and Russia).
In May, President Xi Jinping sent his ‘warm congratulations and sincere greetings to all members who have participated in the Mars exploration mission’, Xinhua reported.
China has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and returned the first moon samples to Earth in more than 45 years, as well as landed a rover on Mars.
In April, it also launched Tianhe, the main section of what will be a permanent space station, aimed to rival the International Space Station (the ISS).
CHINA STEPS UP PLANS TO BECOME SPACE SUPERPOWER WITH MARS AND MOON MISSIONS
Officials from the Chinese space agency are working to become a space superpower alongside the US and Russia.
They have already sent the first lander to explore the far side of the Moon – sharing photos from the part of our nearest neighbour we rarely see as part of the Chang’e-4 mission.
In November 2020 they sent the Chang’e-5 space probe to the Moon to collect and return the first samples of lunar soil in 45 years.
This was done in collaboration with the European Space Agency who provided tracking information for the Chinese spaceship.
Chang’e-6 will be the first mission to explore the south pole of the Moon and is expected to launch in 2023 or 2024.
Chang’e-7 will study the land surface, composition, space environment in an overall mission, according to the Chinese space authority, while Chang’e-8 will focus on technical surface analysis.
China is also reportedly working on building a lunar base using 3D printing technology and sending a future crewed mission to the surface.
Mission number eight will likely lay the groundwork for this as it strives to verify the technology earmarked for the project.
The CNSA is also building an Earth-orbiting space station where Chinese astronauts will conduct scientific experiments, similar to the crew of the ISS.
The agency also launched a mission to Mars in summer 2020 and landed a rover on the red planet in May 2021.
China is also said to be working on a project to build a solar power generator in space, that would beam energy back to Earth and becoming the largest man made object in orbit.
They also have a number of ambitious space science projects including satellites to hunt for signs of gravitational waves and Earth observation spacecrafts to monitor climate change.