In terms of US rovers, Zhurong can be better compared to the Spirit and Opportunity twin robots of the 2000s. With a weight of 240 kilograms, they are much lighter than curiosity and perseverance, each of which is more than four times the weight. “On the other hand, the devices in the rover can certainly keep pace with those of NASA and the European Space Agency,” says Fueng.
However, the ESA scientist believes that Europe and the United States still hold the lead in some areas. This is especially true for the examination of organic matter, that is, molecules based on hydrocarbon chains, as planned with the ESA’s ExoMars rover. However, after several delays, the mission will not start until 2022.
Basically a tech demonstrator
But even if the Chinese rover is not completely technologically comparable to American robots, its goal is also different. From an expert’s point of view, Zhurong is basically a technical demonstrator. “For example, it’s about miniaturization and testing of complex control and remote sensing technology for robots,” says Fueng.
In addition, China had to build its own communication infrastructure in the mission’s solar system. While the UAE Mission of Hope Mars, launched at the same time, uses the US deep space network, the Chinese are trying to move away from the current cooperation with the European Space Agency and its associated dependencies.
In recent years, engineers have built a large network of parabolic antennas across the country, including a 70-meter-long antenna near Beijing. Outside of China, mission planners use a ground station in Argentina as well as the antennas on the Yuanwang 6 telemetry ship, which typically tracks ICBM trajectories.
Thanks to the modernization of the radio architecture, China is now able to independently communicate with Mars, which reaches 400 million kilometers. The commands first arrive at the parent probe Tianwen-1, which will act as a relay station for the rover from an extremely elliptical orbit of 265 x 12,500 km.
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