This is one seriously crazy ass message from sort sort of deeply dystopian society. If this is actually a serious message, then the Russian space program is doomed. You can’t go around threatening your engineers and scientists like this and expect them to do good work.
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.
ITAR-TASS reports that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has taken personal control of the investigation into the failure of Phobos-Grunt, the ambitious planetary mission to fell into the South Pacific on Sunday instead of flying to Mars.
“I expect from the Federal Space Agency a promised report on the reasons for the Phobos-Grunt crash, the names of culprits and an overview on the prospects of development of the space industry through 2030,” Rogozin said.
Culprits, huh? This could get really ugly. Hopefully, the hard-line leader will be able to distinguish between acts of corruption that might have impacted the project and honest mistakes made in a decrepit system that has been rotted to the core by decades of underfunding, ineptitude and neglect.
Russia needs to rebuild its planetary program, attract a new generation of engineers to its space program, and develop missions more suited to actual abilities. They won’t be able to do that if engineers are looking at jail time for their mistakes. And launching a spacecraft as complicated Phobos-Grunt when you haven’t flown a successful planetary mission in 27 years is not the way to get back into the game.
The derelict Phobos-Grunt spacecraft has returned to Earth in a crash more spectacular than Tim Tebow’s flame-out in New England last night. Preliminary reports have the spacecraft re-entering in the South Pacific off the coast of Chile. However, the Twitterosphere is abuzz with alternate reports of it coming down over Brazil. A definite answer is due within the next day. There have been no reports of injuries.
Good God. It’s come to this. The head of the Russian space program is now trafficking in conspiracy theories:
Doomed Martian probe Phobos-Grunt, which was due to fulfill a Russian mission on one of the Red Planet’s moons, might have been a target of external influence. The probe failed while flying over the western hemisphere, outside of Russia’s control.
In an interview to the Russian newspaper Izvestia, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Vladimir Popovkin, said that intended influence on the probe cannot be completely excluded.
”I do not want to blame anyone, but these days there are very powerful means to influence space vehicles,” he told the newspaper, adding that it is still unclear why the probe’s engine failed to start in the first place….
The latest update from Roscosmos on its failed Mars mission’s arrival back at the home office:
“The Earth’s surface can reach the remains of the spacecraft from the heat-resistant materials in the amount of the order of 20-30 pieces and total weight not exceeding 200 kg. The components of the fuel burn of the spacecraft in the dense atmosphere of the Earth at an altitude of approximately 100 kilometers.
“Radioisotope source (cobalt-57), set in one of the scientific instruments, spacecraft – Mossbauer spectrometer has a mass not exceeding 10 micrograms, a small half-life and will not cause dangerous contamination.
“Many years of international statistics shows that when leaving the orbit, spacecraft are almost always completely burned in the dense atmosphere, and their residual fragments, as a rule, do no harm.”
Oh, re-entry is likely to occur between Jan. 10 and 21, probably the 15th give or take a day. And it will come down somewhere between 51.4 degrees south and 51.4 degrees north. I’m not an expert in such things, but that sounds like most anywhere.
I’ve reproduced the full press release below.
It is said that success has 100 fathers and that failure is an orphan. And so it is with Phobos-Grunt, whose failure has elicited weeks of silence from the Russian space agency Roscomos. As a desperate effort was made to contact and save the Mars mission, the world had to rely on updates from the European Space Agency.
That silence was finally broken last week. On Thursday, there was a widely distributed “Dear Colleagues” letter from Lev Zelenyi, director of the Space Research Institute (IKI), the organization that oversaw the development of Phobos-Grunt. The letter declared Phobos-Grunt to be a failure and thanked those who tried to save it.
On Saturday, Roscosmos announced the establishment of a commission to investigate the failure and a Defense Ministry task force to prepare for the uncontrolled re-entry of the satellite, which contains 7.5 tons of toxic fuel. The investigative commission with be headed by Yuri Koptev, who is chairman of the Scientific and Technical Council of State Corporation Russian Technologies. He formally headed up the Russian space agency when it was named Rosaviakosmos.
Zelenyi’s letter is reproduced after the break.
UPDATE – 25 NOVEMBER 2011 — After establishing contact with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars mission earlier this week, ESA’s tracking station in Australia received no signal from the spacecraft last night. ESA engineers are investigating the cause in close collaboration with Russian mission controllers.
Despite listening intently during four scheduled communication passes during the night of 24–25 November, ESA’s 15 m-diameter dish antenna at Perth, Australia, did not receive any signals.
RIA Novosti reports on some grim news for the Russian space exploration program:
The launch window to send Russia’s Phobos-Grunt unmanned spacecraft to a Mars moon will close on Monday, an airspace source told RIA Novosti.
“The spacecraft has already unfolded its solar panels and is in the so-called “barbeque mode,” the source said, speaking about the passive thermal control mode during which the spacecraft rotates slowly around its roll axis to prevent one side from continuous solar exposure and overheating.
“So, the ballistic window for Phobos-Grunt’s flight to Mars is limited by November 21,” he said….
Igor Lisov, editor of the industry magazine Cosmonautics News, said if contact with the spacecraft is established after the launch window’s closure, it could still be sent to the Moon or even to an asteroid.
However, he said there were almost zero chances to revive the station.
After days of official silence, Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin provided an update on efforts to save the Phobos-Grunt probe, which has been stranded in low Earth orbit since shortly after its launch last Wednesday. In the process, he managed to flunk Mathematics 101 when discussing the success rate of previous missions to Mars.
According to media reports, Popovkin told reporters that:
- controllers have not been able to establish communications with the spacecraft
- Roscosmos have until early December to send the probe on its way to Mars before that becomes impossible
- Phobos-Grunt will continue to orbit the Earth through January
- The supply of toxic fuel on board is only 7.5 tons, not 10 tons as has been widely reported
- The spacecraft poses little threat to Earth because it will burn up upon re-entry, destroying the vehicle and the fuel in the process.