China's Zhurong rover kicks off its Martian exploration

Recently China became only the second nation on the planet to land a rover on Mars. The six-wheeled rover is powered by solar energy and rolled off the ramp from the lander and onto the surface of Mars at 10:40 AM Beijing time on Saturday. Zhurong is significantly smaller than the Rovers NASA is operating on Mars, weighing 240 kilograms.

The solar panels make the rover look somewhat like a butterfly. The Chinese mission includes an orbiter, a lander, and a rover, which left the Earth on July 23, 2020. On May 15, the lander with the rover aboard touchdown on the surface of Mars in the southern part of the Utopia Planitia. The China National Space Administration says the rover has an expected lifespan of at least 90 days.

During its operational time on the Red Planet, Zhurong will take pictures of the Martian landscape using a high-resolution three-dimensional imaging system and analyze the composition of soil on the planet's surface. China says the rover will also detect sub-surface structures and magnetic fields while searching for traces of water ice. Zhurong will also observe the weather environment on Mars.

The rover has multiple scientific instruments, including a terrain camera, radar for exploring the sub-surface of the planet, magnetic field detector, meteorological monitoring system, multi-spectral camera, and surface-composition detector. The orbiter will remain in orbit around Mars for an entire Martian year, which is 687 Earth days.

While the rover is in operation, the orbiter will relay communications and conduct scientific operations on its own. Zhurong will explore the surface of Mars at a speed of around 200 meters per hour and the ability to overcome obstacles up to 30 centimeters high while climbing slopes of up to 20 degrees. China says its rover is the first on Mars to have an active suspension system.