China’s state-run press announced today that its Mars rover Zhurong has successfully completed its planned 90-day mission, is operating without issues, and will continue its exploration of the Red Planet.
The rover has traveled 889 meters as of Aug. 15, and its scientific payloads have collected about 10 Gb of raw data. Now the rover runs stably and operates in good condition with sufficient energy. The CNSA added that the rover will continue to move to the boundary zone between the ancient sea and the ancient land in the southern part of Utopia Planitia and will carry out additional tasks.
According to the administration, Zhurong operated with a cycle of seven days during its exploration and detection. Its navigation terrain camera obtained topographic data along the way to support the rover’s path planning and detection target selection.
Zhurong’s subsurface detection radar acquired the data of the layered structure below the Martian surface, which analyzes the shallow surface structure and explores the possible underground water and ice. [emphasis mine]
This announcement reveals two tantalizing details. First, they are extending the mission, and plan to continue traveling to the south, with a very long term fantasy goal of reaching the transition zone between the northern lowland plains that Zhurong landed in and the southern cratered highlands. That fantasy goal is about 250 miles away. At the pace Zhurong is traveling, about 1,000 feet per month, it will take about a 100 years to cover that ground. Even so, as they move south they are slowly going up hill, and have the chance of seeing some change in the geology along the way.
The second tantalizing detail is indicated by the highlighted last sentence, and is probably the most important data obtained by Zhurong. It suggests they obtained good data from the rover’s ground penetrating radar, and it indicated the existence of underground layers. Whether those layers contain ice however is not clear. From the story it appears the data has not yet been analyzed enough to say.
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