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SPACE.com Columnist Leonard David

China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission is going offline for a while

China's Zhurong Mars rover captured this panorama of the Red Planet. Visible in the foreground are the rover's solar panels and communications equipment.
China's Zhurong Mars rover captured this panorama of the Red Planet. Visible in the foreground are the rover's solar panels and communications equipment. (Image credit: CNSA)

China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission — both the orbiter and Zhurong rover — will suspend operations for about 50 days starting in mid-September.

"During that time, the Earth, Mars and the sun will almost be in a straight line and the distance between Earth and Mars will be farthest," Zhang Rongqiao of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) told the People's Daily, a newspaper published by the Chinese Communist Party. "The sun's electromagnetic radiation will greatly affect the communication between the rover, the orbiter and ground control."

The rover had been operating on the Red Planet for 100 days as of Monday (Aug. 30), while the orbiter has been circling Mars since February.

Related: China's Tianwen-1 Mars mission in photos

Data gathering

As of this week, the six-wheeled solar-powered rover has traveled over 3,490 feet (1,064 meters) across the southern part of the Utopia Planitia. The robot's scientific payloads have garnered around 10 gigabytes of primary data since its touchdown in mid-May, the CNSA said.

After they resume operation in early November, the rover will continue traveling southward toward an ancient coastal area on Utopia Planitia, a large plain within the largest known impact basin in the solar system.

The orbiter will enter a new Mars orbit to carry out a remote-sensing global survey of the Red Planet and will continue relaying signals between Zhurong and Earth, Zhang said.

The Zhurong rover has outlived its three-month life expectancy with all of its predetermined tasks completed.

Leonard David is author of the book "Moon Rush: The New Space Race," published by National Geographic in May 2019. A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. This version of the story was published on Space.com.

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