NASA’s Perseverance rover just resumed its nominal operations after the two-week-long solar conjunction forced the agency to shut down some functions amid the radio blackout, as the Earth and Mars emerged from opposite sides of our sun, according to a recent tweet from the rover’s official Twitter account.
This came while China’s first-ever Mars rover, the Zhurong, also came back to life, since China, too, can’t communicate efficiently with Mars during solar conjunctions, according to an initial report from the Global Times.
NASA resumes Mars operations while China breathes a sigh of relief
NASA’s Perseverance rover resumed operations on Oct. 19, and immediately began to roll its wheels across the planet. Other rovers including Curiosity were also set to minimal operations during the conjunction. Like NASA’s, China’s Zhurong rover also gathered valuable data throughout the “black-out” period, which is a first for the nation in aerospace operations and represents yet another benchmark on its efforts to expand interplanetary capabilities. The country also has plans to send probes to Jupiter, in the near future, according to the Global Times report. China reconnected with the rover when its Tianwen-I Mars orbiter successfully signaled the China National Space Administration.
Late last month, all communications between probes or rovers in the Mars system and Earth experienced heavy blackouts due to interruptions from the sun’s radiation, which is what happens when the Earth and Mars move to opposite sides of the sun. People on the internet in China expressed worry and fear about their first venture to the Red Planet’s surface, which is why, to ensure nothing bad befell the rover, China’s ground control team suspended exploration tasks, to run a suite of preventative algorithms like an advance autonomous working state capable of confronting a wide variety of scenarios. “Solar outage is a common phenomenon when we explore celestial bodies in the solar system, especially with Mars and other celestial bodies close to the sun,” said Jiao Weixin, a space science professor at Peking University, in the Global Times report. “The successful experience on our country’s first try has fully demonstrated our extensive preparation work, which will further help China’s future deep-space missions, including that to Jupiter.”
NASA’s orbiters, probes, and rovers kept busy during the ‘black-out’
Like Zhurong, NASA’s Perseverance, Curiosity, and other robots like the Ingenuity helicopter, InSight lander, and three orbiters (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and Odyssey), executed numerous experiments to pass the time. Perseverance took weather measurements, and directed its cameras and microphones to monitor for “dust devils”, and novel sounds, respectively. Meanwhile, the Ingenuity helicopter reported its weekly status, just 575 ft (175 m) away. The Curiosity rover took radiation and weather measurements while its cameras probed the dust. Meanwhile, InSight did what it does best: listen for Marsquakes with a state-of-the-art seismometer. The three orbiters continued in a stable orbital trajectory, and eventually relayed all pertinent data back to Earth.
With the solar conjunction behind them, all robotic devices on Mars can return all information gathered to their creators directly, without interference from the sun. This means engineers at NASA and China’s space agency can download fresh new images beamed back from the Red Planet, and share the evolving conditions of Mars with everyone.