The European Space Agency’s Mars Express has collected data from the Chinese Zhurong Mars rover and successfully sent it back to Earth after a series of experimental communications tests.
The Zhurong rover is only designed to communicate with its companion orbiter, Theonian 1; However, the probe has outlived its planned mission and the probe is no longer able to perform the same amount of data transfer. So China and Europe decided to try an experiment: send data from Zhurong to Mars Express to ground. This is difficult, because the bots’ communications equipment is mismatched. Zhurong can transmit at a frequency that Mars Express can detect, but not the other way around, so Zhurong sends data without hearing a response from the orbiter.
On November 20, Mars Express exceeded 2,500 miles (4,000 km) above the Zhurong site in Utopia Planetia, received a set of data, then transmitted the data across 230 million miles (370 million km) of space to ground stations of the European Space Operations Center, which then sent the data to the Beijing Space Flight Control Center.
Gerhard Peleg, a systems engineer at the European Space Agency (ESA), said in a statement to “Mars Express” that he succeeded in receiving the signals sent by the rover, and our colleagues in the Zhurong team confirmed that all the data arrived on Earth with very good quality. a statment.
Mars rovers collect a wealth of scientific data on the surface but do not carry large communications arrays. Inside, they rely on orbiters to transmit large amounts of data through the inner solar system to the earth.
The rover and the orbiter usually exchange short messages to establish two connections and transmit data. But, according to the European Space Agency, Mars Express sends its own “hello” signal using different communication frequencies than those received by the Chinese Zhurong Mars probe, making two-way communication impossible. However, Zhurong can send signals using a frequency that a Mars Express can receive, so the European Space Agency has conducted an initial test of a one-way communication technology: “in the blind” communication, where the transmitter cannot be sure if its signals have been received.
Zhurong, the first Chinese spacecraft on Mars, real estate On the red planet in May this year was Explore the utopia. With a small antenna on the rover, its companion orbiter Tianwen 1 was transmitting Zhurong’s science data back to Earth. but with Beginning of Tianwen 1 Special Science Mission In November, the chances of transmitting valuable information from Zhurong were reduced. Instead, the probe is focused on mapping Mars.
The current collaboration between the European Space Agency and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) opened the way for a series of five communications tests between Mars Express and Zhurong, all conducted in November. (European Space Agency has also provided a ground station the support for various moments during Tianwen 1 and Zhurong’s journey to Mars.)
Mars Express received a signal during each of the five tests, but during four of those tests, the data received was corrupt, an ESA spokesperson told Space.com via email. While investigating the glitches, interference from another unit on Mars Express was held responsible.
The fourth test, on November 20, yielded results, with the probe successfully collecting 233 kilobytes of data and sending it back to Earth. Mission teams are now arranging additional tests. “We look forward to more tests in the future to continue the experiment and improve this method of communication between space missions,” Peleg said.
The teams will verify when Mars Express will have visibility of the rover Zhurong and that the tests will be in line with the orbiter’s science plan. The European Space Agency said the next test would look at the different bit rates and flight durations.
“In principle, it will be possible for Mars Express to play an official role in the relocation to Zhurong in the future, but this has to be agreed between the two space agencies,” an ESA spokesperson noted to Space.com.
Mars Express has been in orbit around the Red Planet since December 2003. Its activities include the discovery of methane in the Martian atmosphere, mapping of polar ice formation and the initial detection of sub-Antarctic groundwater.
Chinese lunar exploration project quoted In communications testing, it also revealed that Zhurong had covered a total of 4,255 feet (1,297 meters) in 196 sols, or Mars, since the landing on May 14.
Zhurong had already covered 4,111 feet (1,253 meters) by early November, indicating that the rover was spending time analyzing a sediment-filled basin with its scientific payloads rather than pushing south.