Russians Intent on Trying to Explore Phobos Again

Phobos moon
Martian moon Phobos

If at first (second, third and fourth) you don’t succeed, the fifth time’s the charm.

That’s at least what Russia’s Space Research Institute is hoping. The institute is once again planning an ambitious mission to the Martian satellite Phobos despite repeated setbacks in exploring the potato-shaped moon over the past 25 years that are part of a half century of failure at the Red Planet.

ITAR-TASS quotes Space Research Institute Director Lev Zeleny as saying that during the next decade, Russia will try to repeat the ill-fated Phobos-Grunt mission, an ambitious effort to return soil samples from the moon that failed to leave Earth orbit in 2011.

Phobos-Grunt was the fourth failed mission to Phobos. The Soviet Union launched twin spacecraft to the moon in 1988. One failed en route to Mars; controllers lost contact with the other just after it reached Martian orbit. A follow up attempt called Mars-96 launched eight years later failed to leave Earth orbit due to a faulty booster.

The next Phobos mission is likely a decade away, and it will be proceeded by projects that will give Russia some much needed expertise in exploring the moon and Mars.

The Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) in partnership with the European Space Agency will be carrying out two stages of the ExoMars mission in 2016 and 2018.

In 2016, Roscosmos is planning to join Europe and Japan in the BepiColombo project.

In 2017, it will orbit the Spektr-RG telescope and send a Russian rover, Luna-Globe, to the Moon in 2019, for the first time in years.

An UV observatory is to be launched in 2020; an orbiting module and a dropship are scheduled to be sent to the Moon in 2012 and 2023, respectively.

After thoroughly testing lunar and Martian technologies, approximately in 2024, Russia, may repeat its Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars’ satellite Phobos to collect its soil and bring it back to Earth.

Russia is planning a manned mission to the Moon in 2030-2031, Roscosmos First Deputy Head Alexander Ivanov said in July.

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  • Solartear

    The Soviet Union launched twin spacecraft to the moon in *1988*.

  • therealdmt

    It’s easy to think of Mars as an American (becoming American/European) destination, but if Russia successfully pulls off this ambitious agenda, that will no longer be the case at all.

    The entry/descent/landing of the 2018 ExoMars rover is part of Russia’s contribution to the mission and if they can pull that off, they’ll really be back in the game. I still can’t believe we abandoned Europe on that exciting mission.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I don’t think in terms of American, European, Russian, etc. – it’s all just a bunch of people doing stuff. There is no we and them; everyone is us.

  • Kapitalist

    There are more players in the Mars game. ESA and Japan have failed their missions (Beagle and Nozomi). And together with the latest Russian Phobos Grunt failure there was the Chinese orbiter Yinghuo-1. The first Indian orbiter will arrive in weeks or months. UAE, which sponsors Virgin Galactic, has recently said that they will celebrate the 50 year old emirate with a probe to Mars. And private ambitions to Mars have also been voiced. ESA, which have sent only one orbiter to Mars is not a prominent player, they only happened to be successful once out of two attempts.

  • ‮‮‮

    ExoMars is being slowed down by many things, particularly by Soviet-style secrecy and black box mindset at Lavochkin. It will be great if the current rumors about postponing it to 2020 aren’t true.

  • Douglas Messier

    The Soviet program tried and tried at Mars, but it never really had a full success. Russia is 0-2 since the Soviet Union broke up. The Soviet success at Venus was spectacular, the exact opposite of the problems that had at Mars.

    I thought Phobos-Grunt was ambitious but foolish. Decades after launching their last successful spacecraft to any other planetary body, they try a sample return mission that even NASA would have trouble pulling off. Well, nothing else we’ve tried has really worked; let’s double down and put everything on red. How can we lose?

    Not the easiest way to get back into the game. Maybe it would have worked, if they’d managed to get it out of Earth orbit. I think the path they’re on is a good one. Experience with Europe on Mars, missions to the moon. Then take another run at Phobos.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Don’t be naive.

  • ‮‮‮

    Also, Phobos-Grunt was built around new unpressurized Navigator platform, instead of relying on proven but heavier Phobos-2/Mars-96 designs.

    Still, most of the technology is there, and failures contribute to experience too. It’s often takes only a little to transform every mistake to success, see N-1 vs Energiya as an example. (well maybe not exactly a little in that case, but N-1 failure massively contributed to Energiya success).

  • windbourne

    I think that a major reason for abandoning it was to re-focus NASA on supporting private space, including red dragon.
    If red dragon is all that it is cracked up to be, then NASA will be returning soil samples by 2022. In addition, I would not be surprised to see us send multiple sats and landers due to FH.
    IOW, with FH, in one mission, we could send more than double the normal mission size.

  • Douglas Messier

    The thing never got out of orbit, so I’m not sure how much they learned about the spacecraft. If it had crapped out even halfway to Phobos, they might have gotten some decent data maybe.

    They did get some additional data about the problems with their launchers, of which they already had a voluminous amount of data. Hey look, a new way to fail.

  • Aerospike

    Don’t be negative.

  • Aerospike

    Just to clarify: Beagle 2 was an add-on to the Mars Express mission (which is still operating in Mars orbit). So Europe (in the form of ESA) hasn’t even made “two attempts”, only one that was partly successful (While the loss of Beagle 2 was a big disappointment, with regards to the overall Mars Express mission, I would say it was only a “minor” setback.)

  • Paul451

    Decades after launching their last successful spacecraft to any other planetary body, they try a sample return mission that even NASA would have trouble pulling off. Well, nothing else we’ve tried has really worked; let’s double down and put everything on red. How can we lose?

    Thankfully, NASA saves that attitude for the HSF side.

    …wait.