According to Chinese state-run outlets, China’s Zhurong rover is presently in safe mode as it waits out a Martian dust storm, and it may remain in stable mode until the verge of 2022.
Zhurong docked on Mars a year ago this month. Since then, the rover possesses documented video and audio from a comprehensive lava plain dubbed Utopia Planitia, over 1,000 miles from NASA’s Perseverance rover.
Zhurong’s introductory mission was barely 90 days, but the rover has studied the Martian surface and atmosphere since then. The rover was also compelled into a safe mode in September 2021 when solar conjunction disrupted messages between Earth-based space agencies and all Martian spacecraft. Now, the problem is not with the motion of cosmic bodies but with local peak weather.
A 2018 dust storm led to the verge of NASA’s Opportunity rover mission. In January this year, the InSight lander was coerced into safe mode by an identical storm; however it endured, dust coating the lander’s solar panels means the spacecraft is operating on rented time and probably will be decommissioned by the end of the year.
Zhurong is determined to handle the ongoing storm with comparative ease, and its safe mode is more of a protection than a frantic measure. In the meantime, CNSA’s Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter will monitor the Martian environment for any changes, I.e., for better or for worse—in the Red Planet’s weather.