Russians controllers are working on backup procedures after the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft failed to make two schedule engine burns required to get it out of Earth orbit and on a path to Mars. RIA Novosti quotes Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin (translated from Russia via Google Translate):
“We’ve had a bad night, we could not detect long spacecraft, now found his position. It was found that the propulsion system failed. There was neither the first nor the second inclusion,” said Popovkin.
According to him, it is possible that the spacecraft “could not shift from the Sun to the stars.”
“The track complex, could it be that has not been given the command to activate the sensors, propulsion system,” said Popovkin.
He stressed that this is a freelance situation, but it’s working, it was foreseen in the design of the project, and was envisaged course of action in this situation.
“We will surcharge program spacecraft. The orbit on which the unit – support, no tanks are not dumped, no fuel was spent,” said the head of the Russian Space Agency.
He added that the time to restart the program from the experts there for three days.
Apparently, if the solar panels are not properly pointed at the Sun, the engineers have three days to fix the problem before the batteries die.
More on the story as it develops.
UPDATE – 22:56 PST – 11/08/11: Nickolai the Russian Guy has posted a better translation of this under the comments section. Based on this and other reports, here’s what is known:
- Spacecraft appears to be in a safe mode in a stable orbit and communicating with the ground
- Roscosmos is hopeful that this is a software problem that they can fix by uploading new instructions
- The situation with the solar panels appears uncertain – they might not have deployed properly or may simply not be correctly oriented toward the Sun to properly charge the batteries
- Controllers have three days to fix any problems with the solar panel orientation before the spacecraft’s batteries die
- If there are hardware problems instead of software difficulties, then the mission is likely doomed.
Anatoly Zak has a good account of what is known so far at RussianSpaceWeb.com. He notes that one early hint that the mission was experiencing problems was the curt notice on the Roscosmos website noting the successful launch of the probe with no details of mission progress.