Russia’s Mission to Mars Stalls

Russia’s unmanned Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars has hit trouble, just minutes after launch.

Although the probe lauched successfully from Baikonur and made it into orbit, the engines designed to propel it all the way to the Red Planet then failed to kick in. Which leaves the mission rather stranded.

“It looks like the engine system has not worked,” Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos (the Russian Space Agency), told reporters.

However, all is not lost. The probe is still up there in low earth orbit, with all of its fuel in place, and the boffins at Roscosmos are hopeful that the problem is just a software one, and that they will either be able to reboot the software or to send up a revised program that will kick start the engines.

They’re on a deadline, however – Phobos-Grunt has just two weeks of battery power left, after which it will presumably begin a gradual descent back towards Earth.

Popovkin is certainly optimistic – he went on to tell reporters: “I would not say it’s a failure; it’s a non-standard situation, but it is a working situation.”

Russia had been hoping that the Phobos-Grunt mission would break Russia’s cursed relationship with Mars – of 16 missions that Russia and the Soviet Union have sent Mars-ward, none have been entirely successful.

[sws_blue_box box_size=”500″] Phobos-Grunt quick facts:

  • “Phobos” is pretty self-explanatory, but “Grunt” was chosen because it is the Russian word for ground
  • At 13 tonnes, the Phobos-Grunt mission is (was to be?) the largest ever to go beyond Earth orbit
  • If the mission does get going, it is scheduled to land on Mars in February 2013 and to land in Kazakhstan with a capsule of Martian soil in August 2014
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