Europe Suspends Efforts to Contact Phobos-Grunt

Europe Suspends Efforts to Contact Phobos-Grunt

The European Space Agency (ESA) has suspended its attempts to contact Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, but remains ready to resume assistance if the situation changes.

ESA has been using ground stations in Australia and the Canary Islands to help Russia contact the probe, stranded in Earth orbit since its launch on November 8.   The Fregat upper stage that should have sent the probe on its way to Mars did not fire for unknown reasons.  The probe deployed its solar panels, and ESA successfully contacted the probe last week, but nothing more has been heard from it since.

Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) was intended to return a sample of the Mars moon Phobos to Earth as well as deploy a small Chinese spacecraft to orbit Mars.   The window for a two-way mission to Mars has closed, although theoretically if contact was reestablished and the problem resolved, it could still make a one-way trip to Mars.  The Earth and Mars are properly aligned in their orbits around the Sun every 26 months for spacecraft to travel between them.

If contact cannot be restored, the spacecraft will reenter Earth’s atmosphere sometime early next year.

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