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.”