After months of silence, China admitted that the former robot sent to the surface of another planet may never wake up from hibernation.
The Zhurong rover on Mars, named after the Chinese god of fire, was put into a planned standby mode in May 2022, when the arrival of the Martian winter limited the light received by the solar panels.
Zhurong was supposed to wake up in December, but so far it has shown no signs of life. Independent experts estimate that the robot may have run out of power due to dust build-up in the solar panels, as has happened in several previous missions to Mars.
Just last year, NASA announced that the InSight rover, the first seismograph on Mars, succumbed to a major sandstorm for the same reason.
Still, Zhang Rongqiao, an architect of China's Mars exploration program, said he was optimistic that Zhurong might wake up.
"We didn't have any επάfii with the robot since it was put into a mine," he told Chinese TVvision as it relays the to Reuters. "We monitor it every day and we think it hasn't woken up because the sunlight hasn't reached the minimum level needed to produce energy."
Indeed, images from a camera operating on NASA's Mars-orbiting MRO satellite show that the robot has been stationary since at least September.
Zhurong, weighing 240 kg, is equipped with a ground-penetrating radar that searched for ice in the subsurface, a camera for topographic measurements and four more scientific instruments.
Since its landing in May 2021, the robot managed to travel a distance of two kilometers and, among other things, discovered evidence of sweeping floods in the distant past, before Mars transformed into the frozen desert we see today.
Mars is currently being explored by two more NASA robots, Curiosity which continues to operate for more than a decade and the newer Perseverance which arrived on Mars about two years ago.
Unlike the Zhurong, the two American robots do not run on solar energy but on plutonium thermoelectric generators that provide an uninterrupted power supply.