Russia blames radiation for space probe failure

January 31, 2012 By JIM HEINTZ , Associated Press
In this Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011 file photo the Zenit-2SB rocket with the Phobos-Ground probe blasts off from its launch pad at the Cosmodrome Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The head of Russia's space agency Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin said Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2012, cosmic radiation was the most likely cause of the failure of a Mars moon probe that crashed to Earth this month. (AP Photo/Russian Roscosmos space agency)

The head of Russia's space agency said Tuesday that cosmic radiation was the most likely cause of the failure of a Mars moon probe that crashed to Earth this month, and suggested that a low-quality imported component may have been vulnerable to the radiation.

Vladimir Popovkin also said a manned launch to the International Space Station is being postponed from March 30 because of faults found in the Soyuz capsule.

The statements underline an array of trouble that has afflicted the country's vaunted space program in recent months, including the August crash of a supply ship for the space station and last month's crash of a communications satellite.

Since the end of the U.S. space shuttle program last year, Russian craft are the only means to send crew to and from the ISS.

The unmanned Phobos-Ground probe was to have gone to the Mars moon of Phobos, taken soil samples and brought them back. But it became stuck in Earth orbit soon after its launch on Nov. 9. It fell out of orbit on Jan. 15, reportedly off the coast of Chile, but no fragments have been found.

The failure was a severe embarrassment to Russia, and Popovkin initially suggested it could have been due to foreign sabotage.

But on Tuesday he said in televised remarks that an investigation showed the probable cause was "localized influence of heavily radiated space particles."

Popovkin, speaking in the city of Voronezh where the report was presented to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, said two units of the Phobos-Ground probe's onboard computer system went into an energy-saving "restart" mode, apparently due to the radiation, while the craft was in its second orbital circuit.

It was not immediately clear why the units could not be brought out of that mode.

Popovkin said that some microchips used on the craft were imported and possibly of inadequate quality to resist radiation. He did not specify where the chips were manufactured.

Yuri Koptev, a former space agency head who led the Phobos-Ground investigation, said 62 percent of the microchips used in the probe were "industrial" class, a less-sophisticated level than should be used in space flight.

Popovkin said the craft's builder, Moscow-based NPO Lavochkin, should have taken into account the possibility of radiation interfering with the operation and said Lavochkin officials would face punishment for the oversight.

Popovkin later announced that a March 30 planned launch of three astronauts to the space station will be postponed "likely until the end of April" because of problems with the capsule. He did not specify, but the state news agency RIA Novosti cited the director of Russia's cosmonaut-training program as saying leaks had been found in the capsule's seals.

It would be the second significant postponement of a manned Russian launch in the past year. The August crash of the supply ship pushed back a manned launch to the ISS because the booster rocket that failed in the crash was similar to the ones used in manned missions.

Explore further: Russia postpones next manned launch to ISS

0 shares

Related Stories

Russia postpones next manned launch to ISS

September 16, 2011

Russia on Friday said the next manned launch taking astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) would take place two days later than previously announced, on November 14.

Russia Mars probe considered lost: report

November 12, 2011

Efforts to resume contact with a Russian space mission to Mars stuck in Earth orbit after launch have failed and the probe must be considered lost, Interfax news agency reported Saturday.

US-Russian crew blasts off for space station

November 14, 2011

A Russian spacecraft carrying an American and two Russians blasted off Monday from the snow-covered Kazakh steppes in a faultless launch that eased anxiety about the future of U.S. and Russian space programs.

Russia Mars probe may fall to Earth in January

November 14, 2011

A Russian probe that was to visit a moon of Mars but is stuck in orbit around the Earth could burn up in the Earth's atmosphere in January, the head of the Russian space agency said Monday.

Russia's space chief says failures may be sabotage

January 10, 2012

(AP) -- Some recent Russian satellite failures may have been the result of sabotage by foreign forces, Russia's space chief said Tuesday, in comments apparently aimed at the United States.

US may be behind Mars probe failure: Russia

January 17, 2012

Russia on Tuesday said the failure of its Phobos-Grunt probe for Mars could have been caused by radiation from US radars, in its latest allegation of Western interference in its space programme.

Recommended for you

First detection of lithium from an exploding star

July 29, 2015

The chemical element lithium has been found for the first time in material ejected by a nova. Observations of Nova Centauri 2013 made using telescopes at ESO's La Silla Observatory, and near Santiago in Chile, help to explain ...

New names and insights at Ceres

July 29, 2015

Colorful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA's Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers).

'Bathtub rings' suggest Titan's dynamic seas

July 28, 2015

Saturn's moon, Titan, is the only object in the Solar System other than Earth known to have liquid on its surface. While most of the lakes are found around the poles, the dry regions near the equator contain signs of evaporated ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
3 / 5 (2) Jan 31, 2012
Marvin Martian has successfully tested his Eludium Q-42 space irradiater, source of "heavily radiated space particles."
tadchem
2.7 / 5 (3) Jan 31, 2012
How do "heavily radiated space particles" get radiated?
It is always easier to find someone else to blame than to directly grapple with failure, but you can never correct a mistake that you cannot admit you've made.
alfie_null
not rated yet Feb 01, 2012
some microchips used on the craft were imported and possibly of inadequate quality

Maybe counterfeit? It's a concern to, e.g., the U.S. military.
Corruption, of course, will exacerbate the problem.
Hueight
not rated yet Feb 01, 2012
Um, explosive space modulator does the radiating and E-Bay has Hong Kong ICs.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.