Bad Astronomy

ESA writes off Phobos-Grunt

The Russian space probe Phobos-Grunt was an ambitious attempt to send a spacecraft to Mars, land on its moon Phobos, and return a sample to Earth. However, once it achieved low-Earth orbit after launch in November, the rocket that would have sent it on its way to Mars failed to fire, stranding the probe here at Earth. There have been numerous attempts to communicate with Phobos-Grunt, but they have been met with very limited success and most usually failure.


And now another nail has been driven in the coffin: the European Space Agency, which was tasked with spacecraft communications during the cruise phase to Mars, has announced they will no longer try to talk to Phobos-Grunt, declaring the mission “no longer feasible”. Ouch.

NASA joined in the effort to talk to the probe, but had to abandon those efforts when the antennae were needed for other missions. It’s unlikely Russia will give up on the mission soon, but my own opinion is that the outlook’s pretty bleak. If they can’t get the probe on its way, or even boosted to a higher orbit, it’ll burn up in an uncontrolled re-entry over Earth sometime in February. The Russians are saying the fuel onboard will burn up as well and shouldn’t pose a threat to people on the ground. I expect we’ll be hearing more about that as time goes on.

I’ll note that Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, launched successfully recently and is looking good as it heads to Mars, so there’s that.

As usual, you should follow Emily Lakdawalla on her blog and on Twitter for current info on all things involving planetary space missions.