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It's ALIVE! Broken Russian Mars probe finally answers calls

Aussie station gets signal from rogue Phobos-Grunt

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The Martian probe Phobos-Grunt, lost in space for the last 14 days, has finally responded to Earth's signals.

The European Space Agency said on its website today that its tracking station in Perth, Australia, had received a signal from the craft at 2025 GMT on Tuesday.

"ESA teams are working closely with engineers in Russia to determine how best to maintain communication with the spacecraft," the agency said, promising more news as soon as it has any.

Despite repeated attempts to start a conversation with Phobos-Grunt, this is the first signal Earth has received from the probe since it launched on November 9.

Getting into orbit around our planet was relatively easy for the craft, but after that its two engines failed to fire to send it on its way to Mars and the Martian moon Phobos, leaving it stranded and circling Earth.

The window of opportunity to send it on its original mission - a few passes around the Red Planet and a landing on Phobos to collect soil samples - closed on Monday, but experts have suggested a number of alternative space explorations the probe could do if boffins can get its engines going.

As of Monday, although the craft can't land on Phobos, it could still make the journey to Mars, though it might be too late for that now. The current favourite alternative mission seems to be a trip to Earth's moon, something that Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, also said it was considering.

The head of the ESA in Russia, Rene Pishel, told state news agency RIA Novosti that contact had been made but that was only a start to rescuing the probe.

"This is the beginning of the process, telemetry has not been obtained and we're working closely with our Russian colleagues," Pishel said. ®

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