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China Lands Rover on Mars

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 14, 2021
Deployment of the Zhurong rover. (Credit: CNSA)

China has landed the Zhurong rover on Mars, becoming only the second nation (or third, depending upon how these things are counted) to successfully land on the Red Planet.

Chinese space officials say they have received a signal from Zhurong, which landed on Utopia Planitia about three hours after separating from the Tianwen-1 orbiter. Once deployed from the lander, Zhurong will use explore the planet with:

  • ground-penetrating radar capable of imaging 100 meters (330 ft) below the Martian surface
  • Mars surface magnetic field detector
  • Mars meteorological measurement Instrument
  • Mars surface compound detector, a system that combines laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy
  • Multi-spectrum camera (MSC)
  • Navigation and topography camera.

China conducted an online poll to name the lander. Zhurong is a figure from Chinese folklore associated with light and fire.

The Soviet Union became the first nation to land a spacecraft on Mars on Dec. 2, 1971. The Mars 3 lander touched down, transmitted a partial mage for 20 seconds showing a gray background without any details, and then lost contact with Earth forever. A small rover it carried was never deployed.

NASA conducted the first successful operational mission on the martian surface. The Viking 1 spacecraft touched down safely on July 20, 1976, the seventh anniversary of the first human landing on the moon by Apollo 11. Viking 1 continued to function until November 11, 1982.