Data from Chinese rover transmitted by Europe's Mars orbiter to Earth

Data from Chinese rover transmitted by Europe’s Mars orbiter to Earth

Zhurong Rover, outlasting its Potential

Following a series of experimental communications tests, the European Space Agency‘s Mars Express successfully gathered data from China’s Zhurong Mars rover and successfully sent it to Earth.

The Zhurong rover was created solely to connect with Tianwen 1, its sister orbiter. The rover, on the other hand, has long outlived its intended mission, and the orbiter can no longer send as much data.

As a result, China and Europe devised a strategy to experiment. Send data from Zhurong to Earth through Mars Express. Because the robots’ communications equipment does not match, this is a difficult task. Zhurong can transmit at a frequency that Mars Express can detect, but not the other way around, therefore data is sent without the orbiter receiving it.

On Nov. 20, Mars Express got a batch of data as it flew 2,500 miles (4,000 kilometers) over Zhurong’s site in Utopia Planitia. The data is subsequently broadcast to European Space Operations Center ground stations at a distance of 230 million miles (370 million kilometers). This information is then passed on to the Beijing Aerospace Flight Control Center.

The signals broadcast by the rover were successfully received by Mars Express, and our colleagues in the Zhurong team confirmed that all of the data arrived on Earth in excellent condition. Gerhard Billig, a systems engineer at the European Space Agency, is researching this (ESA).

The rovers on Mars collect a lot of scientific data on the ground, but they don’t have extensive communications arrays. Instead, they rely on orbiters to convey their massive amounts of data to Earth via the inner solar system.

The Transmission between Orbiter and Rover

Normally, a rover and an orbiter will send each other short messages to establish two-way contact and data transmission. However, according to ESA, Mars Express uses communication frequencies to send its “hello” signal. They differ from China’s Zhurong Mars rover in that they receive the broadcast, preventing two-way communication. However, because Zhurong can send messages on a frequency that Mars Express can receive, ESA conducted a preliminary test of a one-way communication mechanism. It’s known as “blind communication,” because the sender has no way of knowing if their signal is being received.

In May of this year, China’s first Mars rover, Zhurong, landed on the Red Planet and has been exploring Utopia Planitia. The rover’s accompanying Tianwen 1 orbiter has been broadcasting Zhurong’s science data to Earth using only a tiny antenna on the rover. However, since Tianwen 1’s own science mission began in November, the chances of conveying vital information from Zhurong have diminished. Rather, the orbiter is concentrating on charting Mars.

An ESA spokesperson told Space.com via email that Mars Express received a signal during each of the five tests, however, the received data was distorted in four of them. Interference from another unit aboard Mars Express was determined to be the cause of the malfunctions after an inquiry.

Zhurong has traversed a total of 4,255 feet (1,297 meters) in 196 Martian days, or sols, since arriving on May 14, according to a China Lunar Exploration Project report on the communications test.

By early November, Zhurong had covered 4,111 feet (1,253 meters), indicating that the rover had been examining a sediment-filled valley. Rather than pushing south, it uses its science payloads.

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