Update: Efforts to resume contact with a Russian space mission to Mars stuck in Earth orbit after launch have failed and the probe must be considered lost, Interfax news agency reported Saturday. Russian space officials are expected to announce plans to address the failure in the coming days, according to The Associated Press.
Russian scientists and astronomers continued to scramble over the weekend, as reports surfaced that Russian space officials are unable to contact a failed probe destined for Mars’ only moon.
“I think we have lost the Phobos-Grunt,” former official Vladimir Uvarov told the Russian-language Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily, according to ABC News. “It looks like a serious flaw. The past experience shows that efforts to make the engines work will likely fail.”
Russian space agency’s Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars, which was heralded as Russia’s return to prominence, hit a glitch upon entering low-Earth orbit. The spacecraft’s engine reported failed, leaving the probe stuck in in orbit, where it is likely to fall back to earth. As of Thursday, Russian scientists were still attempting to make contact with a multimillion dollar space probe, however, scientists expressed little optimism throughout Friday and in the early hours of Saturday. Mission control failed overnight on Friday even to obtain data from the Phobos-Grunt probe, leaving little hope that the probe will continue its mission.
Engineers have been using tracking stations around the globe in an attempt to talk to the probe and diagnose its problems – but without success.
Further complicating matters, the 13-ton craft is fully-laden with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine and nitrogen tetroxid — both of which are hazardous. Russian space agency officials say most of the toxic chemicals will burn off during reentry. That said, officials say they are still determined to discover a way of directing a failed launch into the ocean in order to avoid contaminating large swaths of land. Re-entry could come as soon as November 26, space agency officials said.
The craft, Phobos-Grunt (Phobos Soil), was to have traveled to Mars’ moon Phobos to gather and return to Earth samples of the moon’s soil and rocks. The mission was conducted in coordination with a number of space agencies around the world, including the U.S. and China. The probe is also carrying a small payload from the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space advocacy group, to test the effects of microgravity on tiny organisms. The mission would have provided scientists with the first samples of soil from moon orbiting Mars.
It is unknown whether a software error or hardware glitch is responsible for the failure, but attempts to upload new commands to the on board computers have so far failed to change the situation.