Russian Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars and Phobos blasts off today

Much Russian news just now from the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic going live today to an ambitious and critical Mars mission which will launch late today (November 8th).

Russia’s last interplanetary launch of a probe to Mars in 1996  failed at launch. Prior to that in missions to the larger of Mars’ 2 moons, Phobos 1 was launched on July 7, 1988 and Phobos 2 on July 12, 1988. Communication with Phobos 1 was lost in September 1988. Phobos 2 operated normally till it was within 50m of the surface of Phobos and again communication was lost in March 1989.

In the meantime the US Mars Rover has operated on Mars for thousands of hours, Chinese and Indian probes have reached the moon and a Japanese probe has brought back some minute quantities of matter from an asteroid. The Russians have been short of financing and are now trying to regain the pre-eminence they once had. To have the Chinese planting flags on the moon in 3 or 4 years would be unbearable.

Russian missions to Mars have never yet been completely successful and the launch on November 8th as part of the Phobos-Grunt (Фобос-Грунт meaning Phobos -soil) project is carrying a great deal of Russian prestige and – more importantly – the future of the Russian space program.

Discovery News: …. The project, called Phobos-Grunt (“grunt” is Russian for “soil”) also includes a small Chinese spacecraft called Yinghuo 1 that is designed to orbit Mars, as well as an astrobiology experiment from the California-based Planetary Society which will test a theory that living organisms could have arrived on Earth inside meteorites. ….


The final architecture of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft and its major components as of 2011. Credit: IKI

After a two-year launch delay, Russia is aiming to try again with liftoff of an unmanned Zenit rocket carrying Phobos-Grunt on Nov. 8 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. If all goes as planned, 11 months later the spacecraft will put itself into an elliptical orbit around Mars, release China’s orbiter to begin its year-long independent mission and gradually sync up with Phobos, the larger of Mars’ two moons. … The exact landing date for the Phobos-Grunt descent module will be determined after the probe settles into orbit, but is expected to occur in February 2013. Up to about 5.5 ounces of tiny rocks and dirt will be collected by a robotic arm on the lander and scooped into a canister. The container and its protective capsule will then be ejected off the lander by springs and fire a maneuvering rocket to begin the trip back to Earth. The soil samples should arrive in August 2014. …. While the Phobos samples and LIFE experiment are flying back to Earth, Russia’s lander will be continuing studies of the moon.

Also heading to Mars this month is NASA’s Curiosity science laboratory, which is designed to assess if the red planet had or has the right ingredients for life. Curiosity, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, is due to launch on Nov. 25. 

Russian Space Web writes:


A Zenit rocket with Phobos-Grunt awaits its historic liftoff shortly after its rollout to the launch pad Sunday : image

.. First proposed in the 1970s, the Phobos-Grunt project was delayed for years by post-Soviet economic problems, brain drain and downsizing of the nation’s scientific institutions. Even after the funding for Phobos-Grunt had improved in the second half of the2000s, the project was plagued by mismanagement, unnecessary political pressure and serious technical problems. When this complex spacecraft with all its numerous unflown systems finally reached a launch pad, many insiders still considered its chances for achieving its main goal – returning soil from Phobos – close to nil. …

No matter the outcome, as Russia’s first deep-space mission developed entirely in the post-Soviet period, Phobos-Grunt would pave the way to a new generation of robotic explorers heading to the Moon, Venus, Mars and other destinations in the Solar System.

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5 Responses to “Russian Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars and Phobos blasts off today”

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