Feeds

Russian probe engines crap out on way to Mars

Phobos-Grunt stuck in orbit around Earth

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.