Russia Still Hoping for Phobos-Grunt Miracle

Russia Still Hoping for Phobos-Grunt Miracle

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-soil) sample return mission remains stranded in Earth orbit while Russian experts wait for the spacecraft’s orbit to pass over ground stations capable of sending and receiving all the necessary data to troubleshoot the upper stage problems.

The spacecraft lifted off on time aboard a Zenit 2 launch vehicle yesterday afternoon Eastern Standard Time (EST), but the specially designed Fregat upper stage failed to place it into its Mars transfer orbit. Two firings were planned. Both were out of range of Russian tracking stations. As time passed, it became apparent that the spacecraft was not where it was supposed to be.

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, finally issued a press release confirming that the firings did not take place. An early report from Russia’s RIA Novosti quoting Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin said that only three days of battery power were available, limiting the amount of time engineers had to troubleshoot and potentially resolve the problems. The Roscosmos press release issued later, however, said that about two weeks are available. It also said that the first opportunity they will have to obtain telemetry from the spacecraft is 23:00 Moscow Time (14:00 EST, or 2:00 pm).

Anatoly Zak at cites another Russian website ( as saying that a new attempt to place the spacecraft into the Mars transfer orbit will take place on November 10 between 03:00 and 05:00 Moscow Time (today, November 9, 6:00 – 8:00 pm EST). That was not included in the Roscosmos press release or in a recent RIA Novosti report, however.

Russia has been jinxed with its Mars missions throughout the history of its space program. Scientists around the world were hoping that Phobos-Grunt would break the pattern. The mission’s purpose is to return a sample of Mars’s moon Phobos, and to deploy a Chinese Mars orbiter, Yinghuo-1. It also is carrying an experiment from The Planetary Society.

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