What is the meaning of China’s silence on the Tianwen-1 rover that went to Mars?


Science News Desk – China’s first interplanetary mission was launched two and a half years ago. Its special feature was that it was (and still is) the only mission in the world in which an orbiter, probe and rover were sent to Mars. The second anniversary of the success of this campaign was on the 10th of this month. However, for the last two years this campaign has been successful and the Zhurong rover was also working well along with other equipment. But no new pictures of the rover have been released for the past few weeks. Many doubts are arising from this.

In fact, in May 2022, the Jurong rover of the Tianwen 1 mission started going into hibernation. This was the reason that due to the winter season in the northern hemisphere of Mars, solar energy would be less available. Due to this, it was lying inactive since six months ago but it was to be restarted at the end of last year. December 2022 was the time of the spring equinox on Mars. And since then the Jurong rover must have started getting more sunlight. But since then China and space officials have remained tight-lipped on the rover’s current condition. Recently, on the first anniversary of Tianwen, the Chinese media focused more on the achievements of its Mars orbiter.

Surprisingly, there was little mention of the Jurong rover in the articles written on the occasion in China, and even new photos of the orbiter were not released. Actually Jurong’s activism depended on two conditions. Its equipment temperature should be more than 5 °C and the generated power should be more than 140 watts. It was expected that by December both these conditions would be met and Jurong would be active once again. The special thing about this rover is that it does not have any radioisotope heater unit like other rover like China’s Yutu rover sent to the moon. Instead, it contains a pair of windows containing a chemical called N Undecane, which stores heat energy.

N Undecane is a substance that absorbs heat and melts during the day and freezes at night to emit heat. It has been speculated that dust storms on Utopia Planicia may have affected Jurong’s ability to generate heat and light. Accumulation of dust may cause problems in reactivating the Jurong rover and for this reason such pictures may have stopped coming on which China has kept silence. But there is still hope that as the Martian summer heats up, the wind will clear the solar panels and Jurong will be active again.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Tianwen would still be considered a very successful campaign. It is the only country after the US to have successfully landed and operated a rover on Mars. Both Tianwen 1 and Jurong have completed their original missions. Now China is working on a plan to bring soil samples from Mars to Earth. There is a plan to launch this campaign named Tianwen 3 by 2028.

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