Russia Blames Radiation for Loss of Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft

Phobos-Grunt in preparation. (Credit: Roscosmos)

Roscosmos says that radiation in low Earth orbit fried Phobos-Grunt’s computer, an explanation that not everyone is buying:

“The most likely reason, in the opinion of the commission, was the local impact of heavily charged space particles that led to a failure in the memory of the main onboard computer in the second stage of flight,” [Roscosmos Head Vladimir] Popovkin told Russian news agencies in Voronezh, a town 450 km (280 miles) south of Moscow.

A burst of space radiation caused the onboard computers to reboot and go into standby mode, he said.

Popovkin said foreign-made counterfeit or defective microchips were partly to blame for the failure of the $165-million spacecraft, designed to retrieve soil samples from the Martian moon Phobos…

State RIA news agency cited an industry source as saying it was “simply absurd” that Phobos-Grunt had not been made to withstand cosmic rays on its two-year interplanetary mission.

“They did not make a vacuum cleaner but a spacecraft that is intended to fly in the aggressive environment of outer space. They couldn’t have failed to take this into account,” the source said.

Another space industry source said potentially damaging bursts of radiation were highly unlikely in low-Earth orbit, where hundreds of satellites circle within the protective bubble of the planet’s magnetic field.

Whatever the truth, Roscosmos has at least ruled out the possibility that the satellite was fried by a U.S. radar installation either in Alaska or the Marshall Island. This theory, which Russia’s own scientists found far fetched, has been denied by the American government.

Read the full story.