The Mars hex that has cost Russia its past three probes may be at work again.
Following a successful liftoff Tuesday, Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, designed to return soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos, appeared to remain in Earth orbit after a scheduled upper-stage engine firing should have put it on the path to Mars.
“The news is ‘no news’ from the spacecraft,” planetary scientist Pascal Lee, with the Mars Institute, wrote in an email to Discovery News. “No telemetry since separation. This is not good.”
“Indications now are that the spacecraft is in safe mode, and the engine burn was never performed. The spacecraft could be reset, and the mission might be recoverable,” reports The Planetary Society, which is flying a piggyback astrobiology experiment on the mission.
“We had a difficult night,” Russian space agency head Vladimir Popovkin told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, RussianSpaceWeb.com reports. “We could not locate the spacecraft for a very long time. Now we know its coordinates.”
Flight directors were working to recover the spacecraft, which still had the propellant necessary for the engine burns to get to Mars.
“Ground controllers reportedly had three days to uplink new instructions onboard the spacecraft, before onboard batteries would be fully discharged,” Popovkin said, as reported by RussianSpaceWeb.com
The mission was Russia’s first attempt to return to interplanetary space following the loss of a Mars orbiter and lander in 1996. None of the 18 previous Russian and Soviet Mars spacecraft have been completely successful.
Image: A good start … and then trouble. Russian Zenit rocket lifts off with spacecraft bound for Phobos, one of Mars’ moons. Credit: SpaceflightNow.com for Discovery News.