The new Russian mission to Mars Phobos-Grunt was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for Mars yesterday.
Initial reports from the craft suggested that all was going according to plan. However it later emerged that their had been a major fault with the launch system.
The cruise stage was to fire its engines twice. Once to reach a high orbit and the second to break free of the Earth’s gravity, setting it on its way to Mars.
Current information suggests that this stage has failed completely, with neither of the two engine burns occurring. As such the probe is now stranded in Low-Earth-Orbit (LEO), initially an official statement suggested that the mission controllers had only three days to correct the issue before the probe permanently depleted its on-board power reserves, highlighting that its solar panels may not be functional. It has since been confirmed that the craft’s on-board batteries are charging successfully, though this is only one time constraint the mission faces.
Its orbit is already decaying and engineers only have a few days (though one report suggests this may be up to a month) before the spacecraft falls below the altitude its thrusters are capable of breaking orbit from. If this occurs the spacecraft is doomed as there is currently no way to rescue or physically repair it. First attempts to correct any programming faults will take place tomorrow, and it may yet be possible for the craft to switch to a secondary propulsion system and break orbit.
The craft is also carrying China’s first Mars’s orbiter Yinghuo-1 so it would be a double distaster if the craft failed.
10/11/2011 – Update – Several attempts to communicate with the craft overnight have failed and so it remains trapped in low orbit. The cause of the engine malfunction is still not known
This post will be updated as we receive more information.
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