Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Surface characteristics of the Zhurong Mars rover traverse at Utopia Planitia

Abstract

China’s Mars rover, Zhurong, touched down on Utopia Planitia in the northern lowlands of Mars (109.925° E, 25.066° N) in May 2021, and has been conducting in situ investigations of the landing area in conjunction with the Tianwen-1 orbiter. Here we present surface properties derived from the Zhurong rover’s traverse during the first 60 sols of rover operations. Our analysis of the rover’s position from locomotion data and camera imagery over that time shows that the rover traversed 450.9 m southwards over a flat surface with mild wheel slippage. Soil parameters determined by terramechanics, which observes wheel–terrain interactions, indicate that the topsoil has high bearing strength and cohesion. The soil’s equivalent stiffness is estimated to range from 1,390 to 5,872 kPa per mN, and the internal friction angle ranges from 21° to 34° under a cohesion of 1.5 to 6 kPa. Aeolian bedforms in the area are primarily transverse aeolian ridges, indicating northeastern local wind directions. Surface rocks imaged by the rover cameras show evidence of physical weathering processes, such as wind erosion, and potential chemical weathering processes. Joint investigations utilizing the scientific payloads of the rover and the orbiter can provide insights into local aeolian and aqueous history, and the habitability evolution of the northern lowlands on Mars.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Regional geomorphological features of the Tianwen-1 landing site.
Fig. 2: The routing path of the Zhurong rover and the associated wheel slippage for the first 60 sols.
Fig. 3: Analysis of soil mechanical parameters at the Zhurong landing site.
Fig. 4: The geological features at the landing site.

Data availability

The Tianwen-1 data used in this work are produced by the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC). The data used in this manuscript are available at https://doi.org/10.11922/sciencedb.01425. The MOLA base map with geoid elevations is available at https://astrogeology.usgs.gov/search/map/Mars/GlobalSurveyor/MOLA/Mars_MGS_MOLA_DEM_mosaic_global_463m. Source data are provided with this paper.

References

  1. Mallapaty, S. China has landed its first rover on Mars—here’s what happens next. Nature 593, 323–324 (2021).

  2. Li, C. et al. Scientific objectives and payload configuration of China’s first Mars exploration mission. J. Deep Space Explor. 5, 406–413 (2018).

  3. Liang, X. et al. The navigation and terrain cameras on the Tianwen-1 Mars rover. Space Sci. Rev. 217, 37 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Zhou, B. et al. The Mars rover subsurface penetrating radar onboard China’s Mars 2020 mission. Earth Planet. Phys. 4, 345–354 (2020).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Peng, Y. et al. Overview of the Mars climate station for Tianwen-1 mission. Earth Planet. Phys. 4, 371–383 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Du, A. et al. The Chinese Mars rover fluxgate magnetometers. Space Sci. Rev. 216, 135 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Li, C. et al. Design and realization of Chinese Tianwen-1 energetic particle analyzer. Space Sci. Rev. 217, 26 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Wan, W. et al. Visual localization of the Tianwen-1 lander using orbital, descent and rover Images. Remote Sens. 13, 3439 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Wu, B. et al. Characterization of the candidate landing region for Tianwen-1—China’s first mission to Mars. Earth Space Sci. 8, e2021EA001670 (2021).

    Google Scholar 

  10. Tanaka, K. L. et al. Geologic Map of Mars: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3292 (US Geological Survey, 2014).

  11. Smith, D. E. et al. Mars orbiter laser altimeter—experiment summary after the first year of global mapping of Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 106, 23689–23722 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Liu, J. et al. Geomorphic contexts and science focus of the Zhurong landing site on Mars. Nat. Astron. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01519-5 (2021).

  13. Liu, Z. et al. High precision landing site mapping and rover localization for Chang’e-3 mission. Sci. China Phys. Mech. Astron. 58, 1–11 (2015).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Yang, H. et al. Dynamic simulation of planetary rovers with terrain property mapping. In 2018 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation 738–743 (IEEE Press, 2018).

  15. Li, W., Ding, L., Gao, H., Deng, Z. & Li, N. ROSTDyn: rover simulation based on terramechanics and dynamics. J. Terramech. 50, 199–210 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Ding, L. et al. A 2-year locomotive exploration and scientific investigation of the lunar farside by the Yutu-2 rover. Sci. Robot. 7, abj6660 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gao, Y., Spiteri, C., Li, C. & Zheng, Y. Lunar soil strength estimation based on Chang’E-3 images. Adv. Space Res. 58, 1893–1899 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Wang, Z. et al. Wheels’ performance of Mars exploration rovers: experimental study from the perspective of terramechanics and structural mechanics. J. Terramech. 92, 23–42 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Ding, L. et al. Interaction mechanics model for rigid driving wheels of planetary rovers moving on sandy terrain with consideration of multiple physical effects. J. Field Robot. 32, 827–859 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. French, B. M., Heiken, G. & Vaniman, D. Lunar Sourcebook: A User’s Guide to the Moon (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991).

  21. Wong, J. Y. Theory of Ground Vehicles (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

  22. Henry, J. & Bruce, M. Viking landing sites, remote-sensing observations, and physical properties of Martian surface materials. Icarus 81, 164–184 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Rover Team Characterization of the Martian surface deposits by the Mars Pathfinder rover, Sojourner. Science 278, 1765–1768 (1997).

  24. Arvidson, R. E. et al. Localization and physical properties experiments conducted by Spirit at Gusev Crater. Science 305, 821–824 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Arvidson, R. E. et al. Localization and physical property experiments conducted by Opportunity at Meridiani Planum. Science 306, 1730–1733 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Arvidson, R. E. et al. Terrain physical properties derived from orbital data and the first 360 sols of Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover observations in Gale Crater. J. Geophys. Res. 119, 1322–1344 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Any, S. et al. Phoenix soil physical properties investigation. J. Geophys. Res. 114, E00E0 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Golombek, M. et al. Geology of the InSight landing site on Mars. Nat. Commun. 11, 1014 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Zimbelman, J. R. & Foroutan, M. Dingo gap: curiosity went up a small transverse aeolian ridge and came down a megaripple. J. Geophys. Res. 125, e2020JE006489 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. McEwen, A. S. et al. The rayed crater Zunil and interpretation of small impact craters on Mars. Icarus 176, 351–381 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Mutch, T. A. et al. The surface of Mars: the view from the Viking 1 lander. Science 193, 791–801 (1976).

  32. Head, J. M., Kreslavsky, A. & Marchant, D. R. Pitted rock surfaces on Mars: a mechanism of formation by transient melting of snow and ice. J. Geophys. Res. 116, E09007 (2011).

    Google Scholar 

  33. Cabrol, N. A. et al. Aqueous processes at Gusev crater inferred from physical properties of rocks and soils along the Spirit traverse. J. Geophys. Res. 111, E02S20 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  34. Arvidson, R. E. et al. Overview of the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover mission to Gusev Crater: landing site to Backstay Rock in the Columbia Hills. J. Geophys. Res. 111, E02S01 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  35. Thomas, M., Clarke, J. & Pain, C. Weathering, erosion and landscape processes on Mars identified from recent rover imagery, and possible Earth analogues. Aust. J. Earth Sci. 52, 365–378 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Greeley, R. et al. Gusev crater: wind-related features and processes observed by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. J. Geophys. Res. 111, E02S09 (2006).

    Google Scholar 

  37. Thomson, B. J., Bridges, N. T. & Greeley, R. Rock abrasion features in the Columbia Hills, Mars. J. Geophys. Res. 113, E08010 (2008).

    Google Scholar 

  38. Bridges, N. T. et al. Ventifacts at the Pathfinder landing site. J. Geophys. Res. 104, 8595–8615 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Golombek, M. et al. Selection of the Mars Science Laboratory landing site. Space Sci. Rev. 170, 641–737 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Zheng, J. et al. Design and terramechanics analysis of a Mars rover utilizing active suspension. Mech. Mach. Theory 128, 125–149 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Yuan, B. et al. Experimental study on the durability of China’s Mars rover’s mobility system. J. Aerosp. Eng. 34, 04021047 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Gao, H. et al. Performance analysis on wheels lifting-off-ground for Mars rover with active suspension. Jiqiren 39, 139–150 (2017).

  43. Ding, L., Gao, H., Deng, Z., Yoshida, K. & Nagatani, K. Parameter identification for planetary soil based on a decoupled analytical wheel-soil interaction terramechanics model. In 2009 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems 4122–4127 (IEEE Press, 2009).

  44. Ding, L. Wheel–Soil Interaction Terramechanics for Lunar/Planetary Exploration Rovers: Modeling and Application. PhD thesis, Harbin Institute of Technology (2009).

  45. Shibly, H., Iagnemma, K. & Dubowsky, S. An equivalent soil mechanics formulation for rigid wheels in deformable terrain, with application to planetary exploration rovers. J. Terramech. 42, 1–13 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Zhao, H. Shock! High-resolution animations reveal how Zhurong rover works on Mars. CCTV https://m.news.cctv.com/2021/06/11/ARTIDKjIkU00BXYFYV0dIpjG210611.shtml (2021).

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank all the scientists and engineers who contributed to the Tianwen-1 mission, in particular those from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT), Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) and Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) for their dedicated work on the Zhurong Mars rover and Tianwen-1 mission. This work was supported in part by: the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant 51822502 (L.D.), Grant 91948202 (H.G.), Grant 61972020 (C.L.) and Grant 62003025 (Xiaoxue Wang); the Development Program of China under Grant 2019YFB1309500 (H.G.); the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities under Grant FRFCU9803500621 (L.D.); the ‘111 Project’ under Grant BP0719002 (Z.D.); the Heilongjiang Postdoctoral Fund under Grant LBH-Z20136 (H.Y.); the Self-Planned Task of State Key Laboratory of Robotics and System (HIT) under Grant SKLRS202101A03 (H.Y.); and the Pre-research project on Civil Aerospace Technologies by CNSA under Grant D020102 (Y.Z.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

L.D. coordinated and wrote the manuscript with R. Zhou. T.Y. led the Zhurong rover operation and data acquisition. H.G and H.Y coordinated co-author contributions. L.D., R. Zhou, H.G., H.Y., Y.Y., Z.W., Z.D., L.H., N.L., Z.L., F.N., H.Q., S.L., W.F., C.Y., H.X., G.W., L.N. and P.X. conducted data and image analysis. T.Y., J.L., C.L., J.W., X.C., X.H., H.Z., R. Zhao, Z.Z., Z.C., F.W., Q.X., H.L., L.L., Xiaoxue Wang, Z.H. and J.Z. performed rover operations, data acquisitions and analyses. Y.J., B.Y., B.C. and Z.D. provided and analysed rover parameters. Y.Z., Xiyu Wang, G.B., W.W., M.Z. and K.D. performed geological analysis and interpretation. G.L. and L.R. refined the results and the writing. All authors reviewed and revised the manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to L. Ding, H. Gao or H. Yang.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Geoscience thanks Fred Calef, Matthew Golombek and Chris Okubo for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Primary Handling Editor: Tamara Goldin, in collaboration with the Nature Geoscience team.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Zhurong rover on Tianwen-1 mission.

a, The group photo of Zhurong rover and Tianwen-1 lander on the Martian surface. The rover dimensions are 2.6 × 3.0 × 1.85 m when fully unfolded, and its mass is 240 kg. The image was taken by a Wi-Fi camera deployed by Zhurong on sol 18 (1 June 2021). Image credit: CNSA/BACC. b, Six scientific payloads, hazard avoidance cameras and the grouser wheel on the Zhurong rover. The six scientific payloads2 include NaTeCam3, Multispectral Camera (MSCam), Mars Rover Penetrating Radar (RoPeR)4, Mars surface Composition Detector (MarSCoDe)7, Mars Rover Magnetometer (RoMAG)6, and Mars Climate Station (MCS)5. Two pairs of hazard avoidance cameras (HazCam), of engineering payloads, are configured forward and backward for stereo observation. The grouser wheel is evenly arranged with 20 grousers on its outer surface and spokes inside. c, Creeping and crabbing modes of the Zhurong rover implemented by taking advantage of the rocker-bogie suspension with active joints46. The creeping mode of Zhurong to get out of sunk and climb steep slopes is realized by decreasing or increasing the angle of the main rocker arm, coordinated with the movement of other wheels. The crabbing mode of Zhurong for lateral movement is achieved by turning the steering wheels at 90° and driving laterally.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Regional topography of the Tianwen-1 landing site.

a, MOLA-derived elevation map of the Tianwen-1 surrounding region in a circular shape. The 20 km diameter circular map is centered at 109.925° E, 24.980° N, about 10 km south of the Tianwen-1 landing site. b, The slope map of the Tianwen-1 surrounding region is based on the MOLA data (baseline 926 m). (The upper layer is a portion of the MOLA shaded-relief topographic map of Mars, which is available at https://astrogeology.usgs.gov/search/map/Mars/GlobalSurveyor/MOLA/Mars_MGS_MOLA_DEM_mosaic_global_463m ; the base map is a 5 m pixel–1 global mosaic of Mars using imagery acquired by the Context Camera (CTX) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which is available at http://murray-lab.caltech.edu/.).

Extended Data Fig. 3 Rover locomotion simulation.

The simulation of four traverses after the rover driving off the ramp is visualized. The yellow line represents the planned path, and the blue line represents the path obtained in the simulation. The movement sequence of the rover is carried out in the order of the number marked. The terrain map (DEM covered with orthophoto) is built from NaTeCam images.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Wheel track analysis.

a, Stagged pattern of the wheel track left by a wheel moving with longitudinal slip. b, Wheel track extraction and wheel slip ratio analysis over a traverse to waypoint A. Eight continuous track units are extracted on the orthograph for local wheel slip ratio calculation. The image was taken by the NaTeCam on sol 11. c, d, f, show wheel tracks and the associated wheel sinkage. Images were taken by the rear HazCam. c, A part of the discernable wheel track with well-trimmed edges. The wheel sinkage is estimated to be about 10 mm. d, Most typical form of wheel tracks without well-trimmed edges. Its wheel sinkage is estimated to be ~5 mm. e, Near-Side view of the wheel-terrain interaction. Only wheel grousers are submerged into the soil and the wheel rims of these three right wheels are millimetres above the surface. Some soil adhered to the wheel surface or on the groove bordering the grousers. This image was taken by the Wi-Fi camera on sol 12 when the rover was retreating. f, shows both wheel tracks interrupted by gravels and wheel tracks with rim sinking below the surface. The wheel sinkage of the wheel tracks interrupted by gravels is estimated to be ~2 mm. The wheel sinkage of wheel tracks formed by the wheel rim sinking below the surface is estimated to be ~15 mm. Image credit: CNSA/BACC.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Craters around the Tianwen-1 landing site.

a, The distribution of the mapped craters (diameters > 1 m) in the circular region surrounding the Tianwen-1 landing site, overlaid on the HiRISE image (ESP_069665_2055). C1, C2, C3 are three large craters (diameter > 200 m) in this area. The circular region is centred on 109.925° E, 25.048° N with a diameter of 4 km, and its centre is 1 km south of the Tianwen1 landing site. b, A log-log plot of the incremental sizefrequency distribution of craters. The diameter interval is √2D m and the crater diameter refers to the middle value of each bin. c, A degraded crater with smooth rims imaged by NaTeCam on sol 60 (13 July 2021). d, A crater almost fully filled with sand imaged by NaTeCam on sol 23 (6 June 2021). Image credit: CNSA/BACC.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 Rocks around the Tianwen-1 landing site.

a, b, c, are diverse rocks observed by Zhurong rover on the surface. These rocks appear irregular in shapes and have darktoned interiors covered with light-toned soil or dust on the surface. Image credit: CNSA/BACC.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Wheel-soil interaction model and the driving motor characteristics curve.

a, Force diagram for the wheel-soil interaction of a grouser, rigid wheel. b, Characteristics curve of the driving torque and the motor current for the driving motor on the Zhurong rover.

Extended Data Table. 1 The parameters of the Zhurong rover
Extended Data Table. 2 Daily scientific exploration events
Extended Data Table. 3 Driving motor current and wheel driving torque of traverses on sol 23-34

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Text and Tables 1–4.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 2

Rover positions of each sol derived from visual localization, wheel slip ratio and rover elevations of each sol derived from GNC.

Source Data Fig. 3

Parameters of soils on the Earth and on other landing sites.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 5

Crater size statistics.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Ding, L., Zhou, R., Yu, T. et al. Surface characteristics of the Zhurong Mars rover traverse at Utopia Planitia. Nat. Geosci. 15, 171–176 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00905-6

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-022-00905-6

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing