Mars ’12 Update: Curiosity Healthy, Phobos-Grunt Not

This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light for purposes of illustration. (Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has a healthy spacecraft on its way to Mars.

Engineers have received data from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory showing that all systems are operating normally. The approximately eight-month journey to Mars is underway.

MSL, aka Curiosity, was launched from Cape Canaveral on Saturday en route to an Aug. 6 landing on the Red Planet.

Meanwhile, things continue to look grim for Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission, which has been stuck in low Earth orbit for three weeks.

Anatoly Zak’s Nov. 29 update on RussianSpaceWeb.com is not encouraging:

During the night from November 28 to November 29, the ground station in Perth had five opportunities to contact Phobos-Grunt from 18:21 to 03:47 GMT (22:21 – 07:47 Moscow Time) However all attempts to command Phobos-Grunt to fire its engines for reaching higher orbit were unsuccessful, Russian news agencies reported, as industry sources promised to continue their efforts to communicate with the spacecraft.

ESA reported that its ground station in Maspalomas, Canary Island, had been in process of upgrades to add a “feedhorn” antenna similar to the one, which enabled the facility in Perth to communicate with Phobos-Grunt. In the meantime, ESA teams at ESOC center received a request from the Phobos-Grunt team to repeat attempts of uploading commands to the spacecraft to boost its orbit.

Roscosmos has, for whatever reason, has largely maintained silence on the mission, with few official updates on its website. ESA, on the other hand, has been keeping the world fully appraised on its communications efforts.

  • JohnHunt

    > Roscosmos has, for whatever reason, has largely maintained silence on the mission

    You can hardly blame them. Russian efforts to reach Mars has been nearly a 100% failure. Although the US has had failures in the past, 100% of successful landers have been American. Then, to add insult to injury, just days after Russia once again can’t even get yet another Mars probe out of Earth orbit, America apparently effortly succeeds yet again. The Phobos-Grunt mission would have been an excellent success returning important science even without having to risk an EDL. I hope that one day Russia succeeds in reaching Mars and breaks its martian curse.

  • Tom

    Luck played no part here. The Russian part has had themselves to blame. Failed once or twice could still be explained, but after a dozen of times there are questions about engineering, testing and competence of the people on ground. Of course, money is important. Spending too little money on too big an idea is a recipe for failure. At least they still have the human being space exploration going well.