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European Spaceship Catches Message From Incompatible Chinese Mars Rover, Sends It to China

With all the technological advancements made in space exploration, most of us take the things that happen in this field for granted. Like, say, how many of you give a second thought to how transmissions between Earth and Mars take place?
European spacecraft establishes one-way comms with Chinese rover 7 photos
Chinese Zhurong rover on MarsImage taken during the rover's landing on MarsImage taken during the rover's landing on MarsTaken by Zhurong's front obstacle avoidance camera, the image shows the rover approaching its parachute and backshell assemblyThis image shows the tracks made by rover as its leaving the site where the parachute and backshell are locatedChinese rover snaps color picture of its parachute and backshell on Mars
Generally speaking, hardware on the surface of the planet is equipped with systems that allow it to communicate with the home planet, but that does not happen directly in most cases, but with the help of machines up in orbit. That means a rover launches its messages into the void, they get pickup up by orbiters, and then sent to whoever is listening here on Earth.

Such a thing happened in mid-November, when the latest addition to the collection of rovers on Mars, the Chinese Zhurong, launched a message in the blind. Overhead, the European Mars Express spacecraft was in position to receive the message, which it did, and sent it over to China.

Now, this might seem like something that’s routinely happening around Mars, but there are a few things that were out of norm with this one.

The Mars Express did not send a signal down to hail the rover, as it usually does, and did not await for a reply as a sign that communication has been established. Given how the Chinese piece of tech is not compatible, as far as frequencies go, with what the Europeans have in orbit, this two-way communication is not possible.

This status quo prompted the Europeans and the Chinese to devise a set of experiments to determine if even in this less than ideal circumstance messages can still be sent up, one-way. And, what do you know, they can.

With an increasing number of nations now planning off-world missions, not all of them building stuff to the same standards, having the possibility to interact with foreign hardware might become crucial to the success of future exploration endeavors.

“Mars Express successfully received the signals sent by the rover, and our colleagues in the Zhurong team confirmed that all the data arrived on Earth in very good quality,” said in a statement ESA’s Gerhard Bllig.

“We’re looking forward to carrying out more tests in the future to continue to experiment and further improve this method of communicating between space missions.”

Editor's note: Gallery shows Chinese Zhurong rover.

 
 
 
 
 

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