China’s Mars rover seems to have stopped roving

China’s Zhurong rover landed on Mars to great local fanfare in May 2021 before it began exploring the dusty surface.

But recent images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) show that Zhurong has not moved for at least the past five months. And China has so far said nothing about this matter.

The orbiter’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured images of China’s Zhurong rover on March 11, 2022, again on September 8, 2022, and most recently on February 7, 2023.

By analyzing the position of the rover in different images, we can see that Zhurong has not moved since at least September 2022.

We know that the vehicle was put into a state of hibernation four months ago so that it could sleep in the harsh winter conditions of the Utopia Planitia region of Mars. After that, it is expected that the rover will continue its explorations until the end of 2022, when improved conditions will allow for efficient operation of the rover’s onboard battery.

But instead of offering an update on its rover’s status, China’s space authorities have so far failed to offer any meaningful news about Zhurong, and when it is expected to start working again.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity, a source said last month that “it is likely that the sandstorms severely weakened Zhurong’s capacity to use its solar panels to generate power.”

Some have suggested that while the rover’s four solar panels are designed to resist dust, images taken on different dates show that dust nevertheless collects on the panels, hindering the vehicle’s ability to generate power. .

Mars is famous for its severe sandstorms, in fact, it was this same issue that ultimately prevented power generation for NASA’s InSight lander, forcing the mission to end in December.

On the plus side for China, the country became only the second in history after the US to successfully operate a rover on Mars when Zhurong reached the red planet in May 2021. Moreover, the rover successfully completed in his targeted three-month mission, which includes various scientific explorations.

Now we are just waiting for an update from the Chinese authorities to know if Zhurong will rove again.

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