Programming Error Doomed Russian Mars Probe

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A computer programming error doomed Russia's Phobos-Grunt Mars spacecraft, a government board investigating the accident has determined.

In a report to be presented to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin on Tuesday, investigators concluded that the primary cause of the failure was "a programming error which led to a simultaneous reboot of two working channels of an onboard computer," the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reported.

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The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was launched Nov. 9 on a mission to return soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos. But the probe never got out of Earth orbit due to a propulsion system failure.

Accusations that U.S. radars were responsible for the failure proved false, investigators said.

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"A series of tests showed that the electronics similar to those onboard the Phobos-Grunt had withstood the highest possible level of electromagnetic radiation," according to RIA Novosti.

Likewise, cosmic rays and/or defective electronics are not the leading suspects behind Phobos-Grunt’s demise.

The spacecraft fell back to Earth on Jan. 15.

Image: The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was the latest in a long line of Russian failed Mars probes. (Credit: Roscosmos).

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