Popovkin Finally Provides Update on Phobos-Grunt, Flunks Basic Math

Phobos-Grunt in preparation. (Credit: Roscosmos)

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.

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Russia’s Ambitious Phobos-Grunt Mission Set to Launch on Wednesday

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

A Zenit-2SB rocket with Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was moved to Launch Complex 45 on Sunday in preparation for a Wednesday launch to the Red Planet, Rososmos PAO reports.

Phobos-Grunt (“Soil”) is the first Russian mission to Mars in 15 years. At 13.2 metric tons, it is one of the largest and most ambitious planetary missions ever launched, with the primary goal of returning up to 200 grams (.44 lbs.) of soil from the Martian moon Phobos. The 3-year mission will also conduct in-situ measures on the surface of Phobos, study Mars and its environment, and launch a Chinese orbiter. The spacecraft contains instruments and experiments from France, Finland, Bulgaria, and The Planetary Society.

After arrival at the Martian moon, Phobos-Grunt will send a landing vehicle to the surface. The vehicle will collect soil samples using a piston-driven robotic arm similar to the systems used on Luna 20 and Luna 24 on the moon in the 1970’s. Materials will be placed in a cylindrical container on a rocket mounted on top of the landing vehicle.

The return vehicle will be vaulted away by springs before its engine ignites to avoid damaging any of instruments on the lander. If all goes well, the vehicle will return to Earth in August 2014. The lander will continue surface analysis for a year, including heating up soil samples to measure their properties.

It’s an ambitious plan that will pay off enormously if it works. “Any one of these critical stages goes wrong, and the whole mission is compromised,” says Francis Rocard, who runs solar system exploration programs at CNES, which is supplying three Phobos surface instruments.

Russia Reprioritizes Space Program

Last week, Roscosmos Head Vladimir Popovkin laid out his plan to shift the focus of Russia’s space program away from human spaceflight toward a more balanced effort that also emphasized Earth observation, communications and planetary exploration. The moves also included tightening state control over a key Russian rocket builder.

The most dramatic move is the cancellation of Russia’s large Rus-M rocket, which Energia was building to replace the venerable Soyuz booster. Rus-M was intended to carry the nation’s new six-person crew vehicle from the Vostochny spaceport. However, the effort was widely rumored to be running badly behind schedule and unlikely  to meet deadlines of an initial test flight in 2015 and human flights in 2018.

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Phobos-Grunt Undergoes Vacuum Chamber Tests

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

ROSCOSMOS PAO reports:

Experts of Lavochkin R&D prepare Phobos-Grunt spacecraft for electrical tests in thermal vacuum chamber. Ground hardware and harness mating is almost finished. The spacecraft will be accommodated in the chamber in the nearest future. The tests are to confirm spacecraft systems’ proper functioning in the environment close to the real one.

The launch of the spacecraft which is to return soil of Martian moon Phobos to the Earth is slated for late 2011.

In addition to conducting in depth studies of Phobos and Mars, the spacecraft will carry a Chinese sub-satellite that will orbit the planet and instruments from a number of other nations, including France. (more…)

Russia Plans Ambitious Year in Space

Soyuz rocket

Speaking to media editors-in-chief today, Roscosmos Head Antaoly Perminov laid out plans for a very busy year in space that includes four dozen launches, Russia’s first interplanetary probe in 15 years, a greater role in the International Space Station, and the development of new rockets and infrastructure.

During an appearance at the Club of the Leading Russian Media Editors-in-Chief in Itar-Tass, Perminov discussed the country’s space plans, which include:

  • 48 launches, an increase from 31 last year
  • October launch for Phobos-Grunt, an ambitious mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos
  • assumption of the sole role in transporting crews to and from the International Space Station once the American space shuttle retires
  • construction of roads, railways and worker housing for Russia’s new Vostochny spaceport in the Amur Region
  • completion of the GLONASS navigational satellite constellation
  • debut of the Soyuz launcher in French Guiana
  • development work on the Angara and Rus-M launchers
  • launch of the Resource-P remote sensing spacecraft, which will have  0.4-0.6 meter resolution
  • operation of the Electro-L satellite launched earlier this year
  • design work on the Arctica space system.

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Russia and China Discuss Deepening Cooperation in Space

ROSCOSMOS PRESS RELEASE
Nov. 25, 2010

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov held a meeting today with delegation of Chinese National Space Administration led by Administrator Chang Kuifa.

As Mr. Perminov noted, today’s negotiations took place shortly after the 11th meeting of Russian-Chinese Space Cooperation Subcommittee on preparation of regularly meetings between Russian and Chinese Government Heads which had been held on Nov. 2 in Beijing.  The agreements reached during the 11th meeting had been defined in the Joint Communiqué approved at the 15th Regular Meeting  of Russian and Chinese Government Heads.

In order to accomplish these objectives, Russian and Chinese experts have to work hard. One of the key points in the joint work is launch of Russian Phobos-Grunt mission [Phobos sample return] and Chinese Inkho-1 [a Martian sub-satellite]. More advanced projects are ahead.

Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov and CNCA Administrator Chang Kuifa exchanged their opinions on several topics.  CNCA representatives will visit some Roscosmos companies.

Russians Aim for Landings on Moon, Mercury, Phobos and Europa

During the International Academy of Astronautics Summit on Wednesday, Roscosmos Head Anatoly Perminov laid out Russia’s ambitious plans for Solar System exploration, which includes a sample return from Phobos and the Moon as well as landings on the planet Mercury and Jupiter’s moon Europa. The meeting, which was aimed at deepening international cooperation in space, was attended by 27 heads of space agencies.

The Russian space agency and ITAR-TASS reported on Perminov’s comments, which also included remarks about nuclear propulsion, climate change monitoring, asteroid missions, space situational awareness, and the International Space Station.

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Roskosmos Delays Phobos-Grunt to 2011

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft
Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

As reported earlier, Roskosmos has decided to postpone a planned sample return from the Martian moon Phobos by two years to 2011, citing problems with integration and testing. Or, to put it more bluntly, to avoid the nation’s 21st straight failure at Mars.

The massive 12 ton Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was set for launch next month from Baikonur. It would be Russia’s first mission to the Red Planet since the ill-fated Mars 96 mission, which was lost in a booster failure.

The mission includes the 240-lb. Yinghou-1 sub-satellite supplied by China. This would be the first interplanetary mission by the Asian nation.

Roskosmos, ESA to Cooperate on Mars Exploration

exomarsdrillunderground_l

AFP reports on the terms of a deal on Mars exploration signed this week by Roskosmos and ESA:

Under the deal, the ESA will use Russia’s Proton rocket as part of its Exomars project to send a robotic rover to the Mars surface and buy Russian parts for the rover’s power supply system.

The deal will also see Russia’s Phobos-Grunt project — to send a probe to Mars’ Phobos moon in October 2009 — use the ESA’s terrestrial communication facilities during its mission.

Read the full story.

Chinese Mars Probe Arrives in Moscow for Mating to Phobos-Grunt

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft
Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which will carry a Chinese microsat to Martian orbit.

China’s 1st Mars Probe Arrives in Russia
CRI.CN

China’s first Mars probe has been transported to Moscow along with a team of Chinese scientists, Beijing News reported on August 6, 2009.

After passing the research phase, China’s first ever Mars probe Yinghuo-1 was sent to Russia for compatibility tests and it will take off atop a Russian launch vehicle from Baikonur Cosmodrome space base in Kazakhstan in October.

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Transcript: Putin-Perminov Discuss Russian Space Program

putin-perm_10_07

Roskosmos has posted a transcript of a discussion between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Roskosmos administrator Anatoly Perminov. They discussed GLONASS navigation system, cooperation with China and African nations, International Space Station operations, preparations to launch Soyuz rockets out of French Guiana, and the upcoming Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars.

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Phobos-Grunt to Fly Bacteria on Round Trip to Mars Orbit

Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft
Russia's Phobos-Grunt spacecraft

ROSKOSMOS PRESS OFFICE

Russian interplanetary probe Phobos-Grunt will have passengers. There are earth`s bacteria. They will fly from the Earth to Mars and back and undergo space cold and radiation. Scientists want to use the bacteria to find out whether life of our planet could have been brought from space.

Lev Zeleny, director of RAS Space Research Institute, explains that the goal of this mission is to check if bacteria can survive in outer space, for example, if they fly on the surface of meteor.

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Phobos: Interplanetary Moon of Mystery

Martian moon Phobos
Martian moon Phobos

Space.com takes a look at missions being planned for the Martian moon Phobos. Most of the story is about Russia’s massive Phobos-Grunt spacecraft, which is designed to return soil samples to Earth. That mission was set for launch later this year, but it will likely be delayed for two years.

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