On May 14th, 2021, the China National Space Agency (CNSA) achieved another major milestone when the Tianwen-1 lander successfully soft-landed on Mars, making China the second nation in the world to land a mission on Mars and establish communications from the surface. Shortly thereafter, China National Space Agency (CNSA) shared the first images taken by the Tianwen-1 lander.
By May 22nd, 2021, the Zhurong rover descended from its lander and drove on the Martian surface for the first time. Since then, the rover has spent 63 Earth days conducting science operations on the surface of Mars and has traveled over 450 meters (1475 feet). On Friday, July 9th, and again on July 15th, the CNSA released new images of the Red Planet that were taken by the rover as it made its way across the surface.
Since the rover deployed to the surface of Mars, it has been traveling southward to explore and inspect the terrain and has taken daily images of rocks, sand dunes, and other features using its Navigation and Topography Cameras (NaTeCam). Meanwhile, other instruments – like the Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (RoPeR), Mars Rover Magnetometer (RoMAG), Mars Climate Station (MCS) – have also been collecting data on Mars’ magnetic field, weather, and subsurface.
Whenever the rover came across notable landforms, it relied on its Mars Surface Compound Detector (MarSCoDe) and Multispectral Camera (MSCam) to carry out fixed-point scans to determine their composition. Among the new images are the two Martian rocks shown above (courtesy of CNSA via Xinhuanet) that revealed the rocks’ texture features, the thick layers of dust covering them, and impressions left by the ruts of the rover.
Other images (shown below, also from CNSA via Xinhuanet) include a landscape shot that was taken by Zhurong on June 26th, the rover’s 42nd day on the Martian surface (Sol 42). On this day, the rover arrived in a sandy area and took images of a red dune located roughly 6 meters (~20 ft) away. As you can see (top gallery image), the dune has several rocks strewn about it, the one directly ahead of Zhurong measuring 34 cm (13.4 inches) wide.
The next image (bottom left) was taken on July 4th, Zhurong’s 50th day on the Martian surface (Sol 50), after the rover drove to the south side of the dune – which measures 40 m (~130 ft) long, 8 m (26.25 ft) wide and 0.6 m high (2 ft). The fifth and final landscape image (bottom right) was taken when the Zhurong rover was at a distance of 210 m (690 ft) from its landing site and 130 m (~425 ft) from the lander’s back cover and parachute.
These components were part of the Tianwen-1 mission’s Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) module. Whereas the back cover ensured that the rover and lander safely made it through deep-space and survived the turbulent ride through Mars’ atmosphere, the parachute was what allowed for their controlled descent through the atmosphere so they could make a soft landing.