Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Phobos Grunt stuck in low Earth orbit

After a flawless launch provided by it's Zenit booster the Phobos Grunt's main propulsion unit failed to make the two burns required to put the spacecraft on a trajectory toward Mars. If Russian engineers can find and fix the problem within three days, before the crafts batteries drain, there's a chance they can salvage the mission.

Spaceflight Now"We had a difficult night, and we could not locate the spacecraft for a long time," Popovkin said in a report by the Russian Novosti news agency. "We now have its position. It was found that the propulsion system failed. There was neither the first nor the second burn."

Popovkin said the spacecraft may not have issued the command for a specially-designed rocket system to ignite, adding such an issue was foreseen during the development of the mission. He also suggested there could have been a problem with the craft's orientation and switching from sun-tracking to star-tracking, according to the Novosti report.


Atlanta Journal article: "James Oberg, a NASA veteran who now works as a space consultant, said it's still possible to regain control over the Russia space probe."

"With several days of battery power, and with the probe's orbit slowly twisting out of the optimal alignment with the desired path towards Mars, the race is on to regain control, diagnose the potential computer code flaws, and send up emergency rocket engine control commands," Oberg said in an email to The Associated Press. "Depending on the actual root of the failure, this is not an impossible challenge."