Russia Makes Contact With Phobos-Grunt Probe
November 25, 2011

Russia Makes Contact With Phobos-Grunt Probe

Officials with the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) said on Thursday that they had successfully made contact with the stranded Phobos-Grunt probe, one day after the European Space Agency (ESA) reported having received a signal from the craft.

According to AFP reports, the Interfax news agency quoted Roscosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov as stating that the agency had received "a signal" and "some telemetry data" from the probe on Thursday afternoon, and that "specialists" at the agency's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan were "working on this information."

That report came after the ESA said that their ground station in Perth, Australia, successfully made contact with Phobos Grunt "at 2025 GMT on Tuesday," the French news agency said. That was the first signal received since the vehicle was stranded in Earth's orbit, shortly after it was launched on November 9.

However, BBC News Science Correspondent Jonathan Amos notes that not all attempts to contact the probe, which had been en route to one of the moons of Mars, have been successful -- even after ESA officials modified the 15 meter dish at the facility "to widen its beam" and reduce the transmission power "to match the type of X-band signal Phobos-Grunt would have expected to receive nearer the Red Planet."

"The spacecraft's radio downlink was commanded to switch on and telemetry was received," ESA Service Manager for Phobos-Grunt, Wolfgang Hell, said in a November 24 statement, according to David Meyer of ZDNet UK. "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."

Nonetheless, he says that engineers are still hopeful that they will be able to fix the $160 million probe, though there seems to be little change that it will have enough fuel remaining to salvage its mission.

Phobos-Grunt was expected to enter orbit around Mars next year, then touch down on the larger of its two moons in 2013. After collecting a soil sample, it would then depart Phobos and arrive back on Earth on 2014, had reported earlier this month.

"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," added Yury Karash of the Russian Academy of Comonautics, according to AFP reports.

However, according to Amos, Phobos-Grunt's mission hasn't been written off completely just yet, as the probe "may still have a short window in which to start its journey across space before a change in the alignment of the planets makes the distance to Mars too big to cross."


Image Caption: ESTRACK control room at ESA/ESOC, Darmstadt  Credits: ESA


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