Next month on Mars, ESA and China’s National Space Administration (CNSA) will try something never before attempted in space: sending data from a planetary rover to an orbiter from which it cannot receive any messages. In particular, the Chinese rover Zhurong for taking selfies, which has been on the Red Planet since May, will try to transfer data to ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter.
As ESA explains, Zhurong cannot actually receive any communication from Express Orbiter, due to radio incompatibility. This means it cannot hear the hail signal sent from the orbiter, which is typically what the rover waits for before it starts sending data. Instead, next month Mars and ESA will try a new method that was previously only tested on Earth. During five tests, Zhurong will send a signal blindly into space, and Mars Express will listen to that signal and all potential data.
“If [Mars Express] detects a magic signal, the radio will lock on to it and start recording all the data, “writes Josh Tapley of ESA.” At the end of the communication window, the spacecraft will turn toward Earth and transmit that data to space the same way it works. for other scientific missions to Mars. When the data reaches the ESOC, it will be forwarded to the Zhurong team for processing and analysis. ”
It is not uncommon for rovers to send data to foreign orbiters – this is usually considered a smart backup method – but this test opens the door to communication between incompatible systems. This will be useful if China has any problems with its Tianwen-1 orbiter down, or if the US and other countries need help in return.
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