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China, ESA's Mars mission to perform radio test next month

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Beijing, Oct 30 (IANS) After surviving two weeks of solar outage, Chinese Zhurong Mars rover will perform a radio test with European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express in November.

Every two years, between October 2 and October 16, the Mars solar conjunction happens, during which Earth and the Red Planet are on opposite sides of the Sun.

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The Sun expels hot, ionised gas from its corona, which extends far into space. During solar conjunction, when Earth and Mars can’t “see” each other, this gas can interfere with radio signals if engineers try to communicate with spacecraft at Mars. That could corrupt commands and result in unexpected behaviour from deep space explorers.

Thus, during this time period, communication with all Mars missions on Earth is halted.

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The Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and the Zhurong rover safely passed the period by relying on its own smart autonomous systems. Last week, the China Lunar Exploration Project of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), announced that the Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter and the Zhurong rover will now continue with their scientific exploration.

The Mars orbiter will enter remote sensing orbit in early November and carry out a remote exploration of Mars, Global Times reported.

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The ESA also, this week, announced a series of five communication tests with the Chinese Zhurong Mars rover in November.

Zhurong will transmit data ‘blind’ as part of a technique designed over a decade ago but not tested in orbit until now. ESA will pass any received data on to the Zhurong team for analysis, the report said.

Since landing in May, Zhurong has relayed data back to its team using the Chinese Tianwen-1 orbiter. However, it is often useful to explore alternative ways to get its data back to Earth. One common solution is to use the Mars orbiters of other space agencies to provide data relay support such as ESA’s Mars Express.

In November, Zhurong will perform a series of five tests to relay data to the Mars Express which will further relay it to ESA’s ESOC Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, and then to the Zhurong team.

This is also a chance for the Mars Express team to test a backup method for communicating with Mars landers designed over a decade ago but never before tested live in orbit, the report said.

–IANS

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