Europe’s Mars orbiter relays data from Chinese rover back to Earth

The European Space Agency’s Mars Express collected data from China’s Zhurong Mars rover and successfully sent it to Earth following a series of experimental communications tests.

The Zhurong rover was designed only to communicate with its companion orbiter, Tianwen 1; however, the rover has long outlived its planned mission and the orbiter is no longer able to do as much data relaying. So China and Europe decided to try an experiment: Send data from Zhurong to Mars Express to Earth. That’s challenging, since the robots’ communications equipment doesn’t match. Zhurong can transmit at a frequency Mars Express can detect, but not vice versa, so Zhurong sends data without hearing back from the orbiter.