The color image taken by a navigation camera of the rear of the solar-powered rover showed that its solar panel and antenna have unfolded normally, the China National Space Administration said Wednesday.
The space agency said Zhurong, named after a god of fire in Chinese mythology, was preparing to leave the lander and drive onto the surface of Mars, where it will begin patrolling and exploring as part of its three-month mission to search for signs or evidence of ancient life on the red planet.
While China’s Zhurong is not as technologically advanced as NASA’s Perseverance, which is also currently roving Mars, its presence sends a clear signal that China’s space capabilities are catching up with those of the United States.
Weighing around 529 pounds (240 kilograms) and equipped with six scientific instruments, Zhurong was launched by a type of rocked called Long March 5 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, China, on July 23, 2020. The rover spent seven months en route to Mars before entering its orbit in February.
All three missions launched around the same time due to an alignment between Earth and Mars on the same side of the sun, making for a more efficient journey to the red planet.
The Long March 5B rocket had launched part of China’s new space station into orbit in late April and had been left to hurtle through space uncontrolled until Earth’s gravity pulled it back in.
On Saturday, China’s President Xi Jinping sent his congratulations on the successful Mars mission, hailing it as an “important step in China’s interstellar exploration.”
Though Chinese authorities and state media have hailed Tianwen-1 as the country’s first mission to Mars, that isn’t quite true.
But the mission failed, with a malfunction that stranded the probe in Earth orbit’s shortly after launch. In 2012, the spacecraft reentered the Earth’s atmosphere and fell back to Earth, landing in the Pacific Ocean.