Feeds

Russian probe engines crap out on way to Mars

Phobos-Grunt stuck in orbit around Earth

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Russia's fourth attempt to reach Mars has run into trouble and is now stuck in orbit around Earth.

Phobos-Grunt, which launched successfully last night, managed to make it into orbit, but has failed to fire its engines to get it started on its journey to Mars.

The craft – Фобос-Грунт, or Phobos-Grunt ("grunt" means "soil" in Russian) – lifted off right on schedule at 20:16 GMT last night from the Baidonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, aboard a two-stage Zenit-2SB41.1 booster rocket.

It separated from the booster 11 minutes later, but both engine burns failed to work, according to an Associated Press report.

Russia's Federal Space Agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said on Russian television that the space engineers now have three days to reset the craft's computer program to get the engines going. After that, the batteries will die.

Space consultant James Oberg, formerly of NASA, told AP that the engineers would have to work quickly to get the spaceship back under control.

"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.

"Depending on the actual root of the failure, this is not an impossible challenge."

The limited earth-to-space communications network is also hampering the rescue attempt for the Russians, who have had to ask the general public in South America to help find the ship.

Phobos-Grunt was supposed to arrive at the Red Planet in October next year, orbit the planet for a few months and then land on the Martian moon Phobos to collect pebbles and dust before returning to Earth in 2014.

The craft would also have left some instruments on Phobos, including a mass spectrometer, to send back readings. As well as all that, Phobos-Grunt was carrying a passenger, the Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1, which was hitching a ride to Mars orbit so it could study magnetic and gravity fields, ionosphere and the surface of the planet.

The mission is the first interplanetary one for China and the first for Russia since Soviet Union times.

However, it hasn't gone well so far. The first two attempts managed to make it to the planet, but then suffered critical failures that made them useless and the third crashed into the ocean when its fourth stage failed after liftoff in 1996.

Scientists hope that studying Phobos will answer the question of whether it is an asteroid trapped in Mars' gravity or a piece of debris from a collision between Mars and another celestial body. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.