No Thanksgiving Miracle for Phobos-Grunt

No Thanksgiving Miracle for Phobos-Grunt

As many of us enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, the European Space Agency (ESA) continued its attempts to communicate with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) spacecraft.   Today ESA reported that they were not successful.

Hopes were raised earlier in the week when ESA’s ground station in Perth, Australia, was able to receive telemetry from the spacecraft for the first time since its launch on November 8.   In a statement today, however, ESA reported that “Despite listening intently during four” passes, no signals were received.

On the bright side, ESA said that the spacecraft’s orbit “has become more stable.” If that means its orientation also is now stable, ESA would know the precise location of its antennas potentially making future attempts more successful.

ESA has been assisting Russian space experts in attempts to determine what went wrong with the Russian spacecraft after it reached Earth orbit.  The engines that should have fired to send it on its way to Mars did not function.   Efforts to communicate with it through ESA’s station in Perth are thought to have been successful in part because the spacecraft is in sunlight when it passes over Perth, rather than in darkness when it travels above Russia’s ground station at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazkahstan.   The spacecraft’s solar arrays did deploy after launch, so when they are fully charged during the sunlit portion of its orbit, Phobos-Grunt would have maximum power to operate its onboard equipement.

Phobos-Grunt was intended to return a sample of soil from Mars’s moon, Phobos.   It also carries a Chinese spacecraft, Yinghuo-1, that was to orbit Mars and an experiment from The Planetary Society.

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