G10 Global asks if the Mars Probe Phobos-Grunt can still be saved?
November 14, 2011
Following a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 9th November, the Mars-Bound probe Phobos-Grunt’s engines failed to kick in, leaving the Russian Space Agency just three days to remotely correct the probe’s fault. G10 Global has been following the story and understands the RSA must now turn on its engines remotely and break out of Earth’s orbit before the £105-million craft’s batteries run dry. As reported by Wired.com “The mission was supposed to be the heroic comeback for Russia, after two decades of failed missions to Mars.”
G10 Global understands the probe’s plan was to journey to Mars, orbit the planet for a few months and then touch down on one of its moons – Phobos. After landing, it would collect a few hundred grams of soil and then return to Earth in 2014. As the BBC reported “Scientists hope the dusty debris would provide fresh insights into the origin of the 27km-wide moon, which many scientists suspect may actually be a captured asteroid.” Disaster struck only two and a half hours into the mission however, when the craft’s engines failed to ignite and send the Probe on its journey towards the Red Planet. It is reported the craft intended to orientate itself using the stars and after failing to do so did not execute the engine ‘firings’ as planned.
What makes this mission different is the fact that the Phobos-Grunt is also carrying China’s ‘Yinghuo-1’ satellite and a package of micro-organisms sent by The Planetary Society. Yinghuo-1 was hitching a lift to Mars with the probe and was to be released before the craft departed to Phobos and the micro-organisms were sent to test how they could survive in the pressures of space. If the RSA cannot fix the problem with the probe both of these side missions would also fail. G10 Global also found failure to fix the probe may result in a potentially hazardous re-entry. James Oberg, a NASA veteran who now works as a space consultant explained “If the controllers fail to bring the Phobos-Grunt back to life, the tons of highly toxic fuel it carries would turn it into the most dangerous manmade object ever to fall from orbit. What was billed as the heaviest interplanetary probe ever may become one of the heaviest space derelicts to ever fall back to Earth out of control, an unenviable record.”
Only time will tell if Phobos-Grunt’s mission can be salvaged. The BBC reported that if the problem is simply a software issue, engineers have a chance of rescuing the mission. If the fault lies in a hardware malfunction, Phobos-Grunt may well be doomed. Either way, it is clear that G10 Global and many others will be eagerly awaiting news of the probes progress; hoping that for The Russian Space Agency, history does not repeat itself this time.← Back to Press Releases