Phobos-Grunt Failure: Cosmic Rays or Counterfeit Chips?

Phobos-Grunt Failure: Cosmic Rays or Counterfeit Chips?

The Russian media have been reporting today on their interpretation of the results of the investigation into the failure of the Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) mission.   Itar-Tass, the official news service of the Russian government, says it was a computer problem, but was the real culprit cosmic rays or counterfeit computer chips?

Itar-Tass reported that the computer system did a double re-start, as explained yesterday on  The Itar-Tass story says the double-restart caused the spacecraft to go into a standby mode and was caused by the “local influence of heavy charged particles” or because the computer chips “may have been counterfeit.”   Sticking to the charged-particle explanation,  Itar-Tass goes on to say that the institute that built the spacecraft, NPO Lavochkin, should have taken these particles — cosmic rays — into account in designing the system, and Lavochkin officials were “administratively punished” as a result.  Another Itar-Tass story blamed computer programmers.

Another important Russian media outlet, RIA Novosti, added  that counterfeit computer chips  “may have been imported” and were to blame.  But it goes on to say that the commission that investigated the failure “ruled out any ‘external or foreign influence”” as the reason for the failure.  Some Russian officials had blamed a U.S. radar in the Marshall Islands for inadvertently damaging the spacecraft as it flew overhead.

Russian space agency director Vladimir Popovkin is looking towards the future, not the past.  He told RIA Novosti that Russia might build a replacement for Phobos-Grunt if the European Space Agency decides not to include Russia in its upcoming Mars mission, ExoMars.


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