ESA Attempting Again To Contact Russia’s Failed Mars Probe
December 13, 2011

ESA Attempting Again To Contact Russia’s Failed Mars Probe

After previously announcing that efforts to contact Russia´s stranded Phobos-Grunt Mars probe had been abandoned, the European Space Agency (ESA) is now saying that two more attempts will be tried in hopes of allowing a controlled reentry.

The attempts will be performed by ESA´s 15-meter antenna in Maspalomas, a station in the  Canary Islands´ Gran Canaria. “We will make two more attempts on Tuesday on a request from the Russian side,” Rene Pichel said.

The roughly 2.5 year mission scheduled the Russian probe to fly to the largest of Mars´ two moons but it was stranded in a support orbit around the Earth shortly after its November 9 launch and threatens to de-orbit over an unknown location.

The danger with this scenario isn´t from fragments of the probe which are expected to burn up on reentry but the large supply of fuel, some of it possibly frozen, could cause trouble if it reenters over a populated area, the Russian International News Agency RIA Novosti reports.

Last week, both the ESA and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) were able to briefly re-establish contact with Phobos-Grunt, but further attempts to send commands to the probe have been unsuccessful, reports Jim Heintz of the Associated Press on Friday.

Heintz added that a spokesperson with the European organization said that Roscosmos would continue to try to contact the craft throughout the weekend. That individual asked not to be identified, the AP reporter added, and attempts to contact officials with the Russian space agency late in the day on Friday were unsuccessful.

“In consultation and agreement with Phobos-Grunt mission controllers, ESA engineers will end ESTRACK ground station support today,” representatives from the organization told the RIA Novosti. “ESA ground teams remain available to assist the Phobos-Grunt mission if indicated by any change in the situation”

“We have already told our colleagues at the (Russian) Lavochkin institute that if communication bids during the day and tonight fail we will stop,” Rene Pichel, an ESA representative stationed in Russia, told Interfax news agency, according to AFP reports. “They´re mobilizing resources that we could use for other projects.”

On November 23, officials at the ESA ground station in Perth, Australia, had reported receiving a signal from the craft. They told the French news agency that they had successfully made contact with Phobos Grunt “at 2025 GMT on Tuesday,” marking the first time since shortly after its launch that any signal had been picked up from the stranded vehicle.

The following day Roscosmos representatives announced that they, too, and made contact with the stranded probe. AFP, citing Interfax reports, said that spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov stated that his agency had received “a signal” and “some telemetry data” from the probe that Thursday afternoon, and that “specialists” at the agency´s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan were “working on this information.”

According to Heintz, Russian space officials have previously claimed that if the $165 million spacecraft, which contains about 12 tons of highly toxic fuel, is unable to complete its mission, it will likely fall back to Earth sometime between the end of this month and late February 2012.


Image Caption: Color image of Phobos, imaged by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2008. Credit: NASA


On the Net: