China’s Mars rover Zhurong may have possibly fallen asleep for good after being put into hibernation mode in May of last year. The plan was for it to rest during the Martian winter and then be reactivated in December of last year. It doesn’t seem like that has happened, and China’s space agency CSNA has not mentioned Zhurong until now.
However, Zhang Rongqiao, the chief of China’s Mars program, now says that sand from Mars’ infamous sandstorms may have covered Zhurong’s solar panels, preventing it from receiving energy. It doesn’t seem like all hope is lost for Zhurong, though, as Rongqiao further states:
We have not had any communication from the rover since it entered hibernation. We are monitoring it every day and believe it has not woken up because the sunlight has not yet reached the minimum level for power generation.
If Zhurong doesn’t wake up again, it wouldn’t be the first victim of sandstorms on Mars. At the end of last year, NASA had to say goodbye to its Mars vehicle InSight after sand covered its solar panels, preventing it from charging its batteries. NASA’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit also fell asleep after sandstorms in 2019 and 2010, respectively.
NASA currently has two functioning rovers on Mars: Curiosity, which landed on Mars in 2012, and Perseverance, which arrived on the red planet in 2021.