Mars is getting busy, with NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers and InSight landers being joined by a new explorer: China’s Zhurong rover. Arriving last week and recently sending back its first images from the red planet, Zhurong has now rolled onto the martian surface for the first time.
The rover made it through the grueling entry, descent, and landing phase in which the lander has to pass through the thin Martian atmosphere and slow itself enough to touch down gently on the surface. Still attached to its lander, the rover immediately began collecting telemetry data. With everything looking good, the rover rolled down a ramp off the lander and onto the Martian soil.
According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA), Zhurong touched the planet’s surface at 10:40 a.m. Beijing Time on Saturday, May 22 (10:40 p.m. ET on Friday, May 21).
This makes China the second county to successfully operate a rover on Mars, along with the U.S. Zhurong will now explore the Utopia Planitia region in its three-month mission, searching for indications of water ice and analyzing the chemical composition of the surface.
Zhurong also has a feature no other rover has had before, in terms of its suspension. “It is the first Mars rover with an active suspension system,” China’s state news agency Xinhua writes. “It could help the rover get out of trouble by moving like an inchworm on the complicated Martian surface with both loose sandy soil and densely distributed rocks, said Jia Yang, deputy chief designer of the Tianwen-1 probe, from the China Academy of Space Technology.”
The rover, which is named after a traditional Chinese fire god, weighs 240 kilograms (529 pounds) and is smaller and lighter than NASA’s Perseverance rover. There are some key differences as well: Zhurong is solar-powered, with solar panels on its top which spread out like butterfly wings, while Perseverance is nuclear powered using a radioisotope power system. As the sunlight on Mars is weaker than on Earth, Zhurong can turn its solar panels to face the sun as it moves to maximize the amount of energy it can collect.