Russia 'makes first contact' with stranded Mars probe (Update)

Nov 24, 2011
The Phobos-Grunt probe at Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome, October 2011. Russia announced its scientists had for the first time made contact with its stranded Mars probe Phobos-Grunt, a day after the European Space Agency said it had received a signal.

Russia on Thursday announced its scientists had for the first time made contact with its stranded Mars probe Phobos-Grunt, a day after the European Space Agency said it had received a signal.

"A signal from the probe has been received and some telemetry data. At the moment our specialists are working on this information," the Interfax news agency quoted Russian space agency spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov as saying.

Interfax said the signal was received at a Russian station at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Thursday afternoon.

The European Space Agency said its ground station in Perth, Australia made contact with the probe at 2025 GMT on Tuesday, the first sign of life from Phobos-Grunt since it got stuck in Earth orbit after launch on November 9.

Russian officials had cautioned earlier this week that the chances were very small of saving the mission, which would require reprogramming the probe to send it off on its trajectory to Mars before the window for its journey closes.

The probe had the unprecedented mission to land on the Martian moon Phobos and bring a sample of its rock back to Earth, as well as launch a Chinese satellite into Martian orbit.

ESA said in a statement on its website that the Perth tracking station had also managed to receive a second signal from the probe.

"The signals received from Phobos-Grunt were much stronger than those initially received on 22 November, in part due to having better knowledge of the spacecraft's orbital position," said Wolfgang Hell, ESA's manager for Phobos-Grunt.

One of the main concerns after the failed launch is the risk of an uncontrolled descent back to Earth. Officials have said gravity will pull Phobos-Grunt down within months as its orbit slows and becomes lower.

The spokesman for Russia's military space forces, Alexei Zolotukhin, said Thursday that it was expected that fragments of the probe would fall to Earth in January or February although the exact date would depend on external factors.

One expert said that its surprise show of life had generated hope that the probe could be brought down back to Earth safely, rather than any real prospect that it could be moved out of orbit towards Mars.

"If we are not only able to hear Phobos-Grunt but it is also able to hear us then there is a real chance of ensuring it can make a managed descent from orbit and its fragments plunged into the ocean," said Yury Karash of the Russian Academy of Comonautics.

He told Interfax a managed descent would minimise the risk of the probe hitting a populated area on land.

But he said there was hardly any chance that the probe could fulfil its original mission of going to Mars as its window was essentially closed and it did not have sufficient fuel left.

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User comments : 8

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1 / 5 (5) Nov 24, 2011
The window for returning samples is already closed. Perhaps if the lander could survive 2.5 years on phobos it could be rescheduled.
1 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2011
some experts say, that we have a week
1.7 / 5 (12) Nov 24, 2011
phobos is halowed out asteroid with bases near surface and

tunels that lead to the inside caverns

with a probe so close would be very hard to hide that fact

so now u know why the probe failed
5 / 5 (8) Nov 24, 2011
Even if it can't make the Mars window, the probe should have enough fuel on board to break Earth's orbit. If the probe can be reprogrammed to visit any other object in space, some valuable scientific data could be generated, and the mission wouldn't be a total waste. Even crashing the probe on our own moon would seem preferable in this regard. If doable, snapping some pictures of the recently located Lunokhod 1 rover, before crashing nearby, would seem an appropriate ending for this mission.
5 / 5 (5) Nov 24, 2011
"If the probe can be reprogrammed to visit any other object in space, some valuable scientific data could be generated, and the mission wouldn't be a total waste."

Dr. David Warmflash, PI for the LIFE experiment aboard Phobos-Grunt, recently wrote about the possibility of alternative missions to the moon or a suitable asteroid: http://www.univer...steroid/

Of course this all hinges on efforts to regain control of the spacecraft.
5 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2011
I find it strange that too many Russian space probes have failed one way or another, except for the manned Soyuz and most of the unmanned Progress supply crafts that service the ISS (if i were to allay suspicions of my French footwear gifts to the Russians, I'd make sure to include some unmanned crafts in the list.)
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2011
I find it strange that too many Russian space probes have failed one way or another
I don't find it too strange - just try to have look, how thoroughly the Americans are testing each detail, like the power unit for Curiosity rover planed.


The Russians testing everything in live..
1 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2011
Callippo is correct in this instance.

It comes down to higher quality control at NASA and it's contractors compared with Russia.

With manned flights or ground controlled flights, there is always a manual option.

Not true for missions to other planets.

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