Russia Still Hoping for Phobos-Grunt Contact

Russia Still Hoping for Phobos-Grunt Contact

Russia has not given up on contacting its Phobos-Grunt spacecraft that has been stranded in Earth orbit since launch on November 8.

The European Space Agency (ESA) resumed efforts to contact the spacecraft on Monday at Russia’s request using a ground station in Spain.  The request from Russia casts doubt on recent reports in the press that the spacecraft may be tumbling or even falling to pieces.  Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, and the company that built Phobos-Grunt and the Fregat upper stage that apparently malfunctioned, Lavochkin, have not provided any public updates, however, making ground-based visual observations by skilled amatuers the main source of information about the spacecraft’s condition.

Unfortunately, ESA’s latest efforts have not borne fruit.   The agency reported today that its attempts to communicate with the spacecraft using a “redundant transmitter” on Phobos-Grunt on Monday, Tuesday and today “did not succeed.”   It will continue to try through Friday.  ESA was able get a response from the spacecraft twice, but it fell silent thereafter.

Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) was designed to return a sample of soil from Mars’s moon Phobos to Earth.  It also carries a small Chinese spacecraft that was to orbit Mars.   This is the first Mars spacecraft launched by Russia in 15 years.   That spacecraft, Mars-96, also failed to leave Earth orbit, another in a long string of Mars failures for the Russian space program.  Of the more than a dozen spacecraft sent to Mars since the 1960s by Russia, only one (Phobos 2) has been even a partial success.  The United States also has had Mars failures, but the majority have been great successes, including the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.  NASA launched its most recent Mars probe, Curiosity, just after Thanksgiving.   It is scheduled to arrive at Mars in August 2012.  It also is a rover.

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