Click for full image.
China today released three new images from its Zhurong Mars rover, showing that since their last release in late June the rover has traveled about 1,000 feet to the south to reach the parachute and backshell (or entry capsule), both released just before landing.
The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, is the color panorama from that release, looking north. According to a translation of the Chinese press release, provided at this Space.com report, the image shows:
“The complete back cover structure after aerodynamic ablation, the attitude control engine diversion hole on the back cover is clearly identifiable,”
Below is an annotated orbital picture of this location taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) in mid-June.
Click for full image.
The red dot indicates the location of the rover just south of the parachute and entry capsule. The yellow lines mark the approximate area viewed in the panorama above. The large white dot to the north is where Zhurong was in mid-June. The two tiny white dots just above this show the lander (top) and Zhurong (bottom) shortly after it rolled off the lander in late May.
According the Chinese report, the rover has now traveled about 1,500 feet total, and is about 1,150 feet south of its lander.
In the panorama can be seen to the north and on the horizon the same pitted cone visible in the larger overview mosaic I posted here. That cone, which according to Alfred McEwen of the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory in Arizona and MRO’S principal investigator would be his prime geological target for Zhurong, is about four to six miles away.
The mission’s prime mission is about 90 days, and thus will end sometime in late August. However, if the rover is functioning well there is no reason it cannot operate for far longer. That in one only month it has traveled more than a thousand feet means it would take several years to travel to that cone. Though achieving that would be a great challenge, the rover is traveling at a much much faster travel pace than China’s Moon rover, Yutu-2, which has averaged about 100 feet per month.
Where it goes next however remains China’s secret, and they are not telling. That they aimed for the parachute and backshell as their first target suggests that they are giving a high priority to engineering data, which means they may continue to the southwest to inspect the heat shield, about two miles away.
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