PEKING / PRAHA The Chinese vehicle Chu-zung of the Chinese probe Tien-wen-1 will attempt to land on the red planet on the night of Friday to Saturday. Its main task is to study the internal structure of Mars.
According to the Chinese space agency CNSA, Rover Zhuong (in Zhurong’s English transcript) will land on Mars at one o’clock at night Central European Daylight Time. The Tian-wen-1 spacecraft has been in orbit around the red planet since February 10. His name means “heavenly questions”. It comes from a poem written in the 3rd or 4th century BC. The chariot got its name from the ancient Chinese god of fire. The apparatus consists of the probe body itself and a conical landing capsule.
After four minutes and 44 seconds, a parachute will open at a height of four kilometers above the surface of Mars. In another 41 seconds, a heat shield separates at a height of three kilometers from the bottom of the capsule. After another 45 seconds, a kilometer and a half above the planet’s surface, the capsule shell and the parachute separate. The lander will continue to descend at a speed of 95 meters per second. One hundred meters above the surface of Mars, a braking rocket motor is ignited.
The module lands and a ramp exits it, followed by a Zhuong vehicle. However, before that, you need to unfold the solar panels and tilt the camera and antenna accessory. Mars is currently less than 317 million kilometers from Earth. The terrestrial radio signal will reach you in just over 17 and a half minutes. Therefore, the landing maneuver cannot be interfered with from Earth.
The Zhuong vehicle weighs 240 kilograms. It is three long, 2.6 wide and 1.85 meters high. It moves on six wheels. It should last at least 90 days Mars or Suns. If nothing bad happens to you in the hostile environment of the planet, you can exceed this time several times.
Most of the Zhuong rover’s tasks concern the geology of Mars, which carries six scientific instruments. The most important is the microwave radar aimed at the ground. Allows the truck to see up to 100 meters below the surface. In addition, Zhuung has a magnetic field detector, a meteorological probe, and a laser spectrometer to determine the composition of rocks and minerals. Everything is complemented by two cameras.
The CNSA has selected Utopia Planitia for the landing. It is a crater after the impact of a foreign body. Its diameter is 3300 kilometers. It is the largest known structure of this type in the solar system. The American Viking 2 spacecraft landed in the crater in 1976.
According to radar measurements from the US Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from 2016, a considerable amount of ice could be hidden beneath the crater’s surface. Its volume could correspond to about 1.2 times the volume of Lake Superior in North America. The landscape within the crater is in fact similar to some areas on our own planet where underground ice is documented.
The crater also has a curious cultural significance. The creators of the American series Star Trek have placed in it shipyards, in which the fictional United Federation of Planets will one day build its giant spaceships.
If the Zhuong rover lands, China will only become the second country after the United States to handle the rover’s operation on Mars. After the United States and the USSR, it will be the third state capable of making a soft landing on the red planet. The CNSA will serve years to gain experience for a planned mission to return samples to Earth. Count on it in the thirties. Zhuong will become the sixth vehicle to land on Mars. The first belonged to the Soviet spacecraft Mars 3. It landed on the surface of the Red Planet in 1971. However, the Soviets lost contact with their spacecraft twenty seconds after landing. The American rover Sojourner thus became the first successful vehicle. It landed on Mars in 1997. It was followed by a pair of identical US rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, in 2004. They were followed by Curiosity in 2012 and Perseverance in 2021. The last two rovers are still active and serving their science program.
The 2020/2021 season is particularly busy on Mars. In addition to the Chinese and American apparatus, the Hope (al-Amal) probe from the United Arab Emirates arrived on the planet. However, he does not have his own rover and is satisfied with the measurement from orbit.
The average temperature on Mars is -63 degrees Celsius. Atmospheric pressure corresponds to only about six percent of Earth’s, gravity about 38 percent. There can be no liquid water on the planet today, but based on much evidence, it used to be different. It remains to be determined whether there was life on Mars.