Russia’s Mars jinx continues: Phobos-Grunt in big trouble; 3 days in parking orbit to fix computer problem

The jinx on Russia’s probes to Mars continues.

Phobos-Grunt launched successfully last night but failed to enter its departure trajectory when two engine burns failed – presumed due to computer problems. It is now in a “parking” orbit and the problem needs to be fixed within 3 days when its batteries will run out. The fuel tanks are still in place for the craft’s own thrusters and there is still thought to be some hope. If the problem cannot be fixed it will be the fourth successive failure of a Russian Mars mission.

Washington Post:

The Phobos-Grunt (Phobos-Soil) craft was successfully launched by a Zenit-2 booster rocket at 12:16 a.m. Moscow time Wednesday (2016 GMT Tuesday) from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The craft separated successfully from the booster about 11 minutes later. But the probe had failed to enter a departure trajectory for Mars and remained on a support orbit.

Ria Novosti: 

A robotic spacecraft to the Mars moon Phobos launched early on Wednesday has failed to reach a flying orbit after separation from the launch vehicle, the head of Russia’s Federal Space Agency said.

The Zenit-2 launch vehicle carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe lifted off from the Baikonur space center at 00.16 a.m. Moscow time (20:16 GMT on Tuesday). The spacecraft was supposed to use its own booster to reach the designated flying trajectory, but failed to do so.

“It has been a tough night for us because we could not detect the spacecraft [after the separation],” Vladimir Popovkin said. “Now we know its coordinates and we found out that the [probe’s] engine failed to start.”

“It is a complex trajectory, and the on-board computers could have simply failed to send a “switch on” command to the engine,” Popovkin said, adding that it is an emergency situation, which has been anticipated and could be corrected. 

“We will attempt to reboot the program. The spacecraft is currently on a support orbit, the fuel tanks have not been jettisoned, and the fuel has not been spent,” he said. According to Popovkin, the technicians have three days to start the on-board engine and put the probe on the designated trajectory before the batteries run out.

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