Russian probe fails to set course to Mars – Roscosmos

A robotic spacecraft to the Mars moon Phobos launched early on Wednesday has failed to reach a flying orbit after separation from the launch vehicle, the head of Russia’s Federal Space Agency said.

The Zenit-2 launch vehicle carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe lifted off from the Baikonur space center at 00.16 a.m. Moscow time (20:16 GMT on Tuesday). The spacecraft was supposed to use its own booster to reach the designated flying trajectory, but failed to do so.

“It has been a tough night for us because we could not detect the spacecraft [after the separation],” Vladimir Popovkin said. “Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the [probe’s] engine failed to start.”

“It is a complex trajectory, and the on-board computers could have simply failed to send a “switch on” command to the engine,” Popovkin said, adding that it is an emergency situation, which has been anticipated and could be corrected.

“We will attempt to reboot the program. The spacecraft is currently on a support orbit, the fuel tanks have not been jettisoned, and the fuel has not been spent,” he said.

According to Popovkin, the technicians have three days to start the on-board engine and put the probe on the designated trajectory before the batteries run out.

The ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission is aimed at bringing back soil samples from Phobos in 2014 to pave the way for the exploration of the Red Planet.

The $163-million spacecraft carries an array of 20 instruments designed to gather and transmit data from the vicinity of Mars and from the surface of Phobos.

The potential loss of the Phobos-Grunt probe could deliver another serious blow to the country’s space exploration program as Russia has previously failed several attempts to send unmanned spacecraft to Mars.

Russia launches probe to Mars moon

Russia launched early on Wednesday a robotic spacecraft to the Mars moon Phobos in the nation’s first attempt to carry out an interplanetary mission in 15 years.

The two-stage Zenit-2SB launch vehicle carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe lifted off from the Baikonur space center at 00.16 a.m. Moscow time (20:16 GMT on Tuesday).

The ambitious Phobos-Grunt mission is aimed at bringing back soil samples from Phobos in 2014 to pave the way for the exploration of the Red Planet.

The $163-million spacecraft is carrying an array of 20 instruments designed to gather and transmit data from the vicinity of Mars and from the surface of Phobos.

Phobos-Grunt is also carrying several other payloads, including a Chinese sub-probe Yinghuo 1 that will separate from Phobos-Grunt and go into orbit around the Red Planet, as well as a capsule with microbes to study how life forms survive long flights through deep space.

The probe is expected to reach Mars in September 2012 and drop its lander onto Phobos early in 2013.

If everything goes well, it will be the first successful Russian planetary exploration mission, following the loss of the Mars-96 orbiter in a launch failure in 1996.

Last week, Russia brought to a successful end an experiment to simulate a manned flight to Mars.

Six volunteers were locked away for 520 days from sunshine and loved ones in a cramped capsule in a Moscow car park, in an experiment that was intended to find out how human beings could cope with long-duration spaceflights.

 

Russia set to launch Proton-M carrier rocket with 3 Glonass-M satellites

Russia’s Proton-M carrier rocket with three Glonass-M navigation satellites will be launched on Thursday from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) said.

“The launch is scheduled for 16:55 Moscow time [12:55 GMT]. The separation of the satellites is slated for 22:45 Moscow time [18:45 GMT],” the spokesman said.

By the end of the month Russia plans to put another Glonass-M satellite into orbit. It will be delivered by a Soyuz 2.1b launch vehicle from Russia’s Plesetsk space center.

Glonass is Russia’s answer to the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian uses. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters.

Russia currently has a total of 28 Glonass satellites in orbit, although only 20 of them are operational.

According to the Russian Federal Space Agency, five Glonass satellites are under maintenance, one is on a standby, and two recently launched satellites are being integrated into the grouping.

The complete Glonass grouping needs 24 functioning and 2-3 reserve satellites to operate with global coverage.