Feeds

Russian probe engines crap out on way to Mars

Phobos-Grunt stuck in orbit around Earth

Security for virtualized datacentres

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
'Utter killjoy Reg hacks have NEVER BEEN LAID', writes a fan
'Shuddit, smarty pants!' Some readers reacted badly to our last Doctor Who review ...
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
White LED lies: It's great, but Nobel physics prize-winning great?
How artificial lighting could offer an artificial promise
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
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?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.