China’s Zhurong rover landed on Mars to great local fanfare in May 2021 before starting to explore the dusty surface.
But recent images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have shown that Zhurong has not moved for at least five months. And China has so far said nothing on the 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 the various images, we can see that Zhurong has not moved since at least September 2022.
We know that the vehicle was put into hibernation four months earlier so that it could sleep through the harsh winter conditions in the Utopia region of Planitia Mars. After that, the rover was expected to continue its exploration towards the end of 2022, when the improved conditions would allow efficient powering of the battery on board the rover.
But aside from offering an update on the condition of its rover, Chinese space authorities have so far failed to offer any meaningful news about Zhurong, and whether it is expected to resume work.
Speaking to the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity, a source said it appeared last month that “the sandstorms probably severely weakened Zhurong’s ability to use its solar panels to generate power.”
Some have suggested that while the rover’s four solar panels were designed to withstand dust, images taken on various dates show dust collecting on the panels anyway, hindering the vehicle’s ability to generate power.
Mars is famous for its harsh sandstorms, in fact, it is this same issue that ultimately prevented power generation on 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. In addition, the rover successfully to complete their targeted three-month mission. , which included various scientific investigations.
Now we are waiting for an update from the Chinese authorities to know if Zhurong will walk again.