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Russia’s Phobos Grunt to head for Mars on November 9

October 25, 2011, 23:12 UTC+3

A Zenit-2SB rocket will blast off the spaceport at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time

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MOSCOW, October 25 (Itar-Tass) —— Russia’s first scientific mission to Mars in the 21st century will begin from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, on November 9.

A Zenit-2SB rocket will blast off the spaceport at 00:26 a.m. Moscow time, the Federal Space Agency said.

The Phobos Grunt interplanetary station is made up of new elements at over 90%, Federal Space Agency head Vladimir Popovkin told the State Duma in early October.

Deputies asked whether it was too risky to send a hitherto untested rover on such a responsible mission and whether it would be more reasonable to delay the mission until the end of the tests.

“We realize that we are taking a risk, but this is a founded risk,” Popovkin said. The world has advanced a lot since the previous Martian expedition, and Russia should meet the modern requirements, he said.

If the mission does not start now, it will have to be delayed until 2013, and that would be too late, Popovkin said. If Russia tests the new systems first, the mission will begin only in 2016 and will be totally useless, he said.

New instruments are being tested and they will continue during the flight to the Martian moon of Phobos, he said.

The Phobos Grunt launch has been delayed repeatedly since 2009. Russia and Ukraine agreed in late October 2010 that the probe would be operated from the European center.

Bacteria, fungi, maxillopoda, fish and chironomids will be the first inhabitants of the Earth to visit the Martian moon of Phobos. There will be also seeds in the bio-container of the Phobos Grunt research vehicle, head of the microbiology laboratory of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medical and Biological Problems Natalia Novikova told Itar-Tass earlier.

"Apart from seeds, we plan to send four species of bacteria, fungi, maxillopoda, Nothobranchius guentheri and African chironomids on a space mission onboard Phobos Grunt in the second stage of the Biorisk experiment," Novikova said.

The Phobos Grunt passengers will help scientists to resolve the problem of planetary quarantine and protection in future manned interplanetary flights, Novikova said.

"It is no less important to understand whether it is possible to bring to the Earth microorganisms from other planets or Earth microorganisms that have been to space," the research said.

Once the vehicle reaches Mars, it will spend several months in orbit to choose the best place for landing on Phobos. A landing capsule will separate and reach the moon surface. It will collect relic substance, which, in the opinion of scientists, might have formed planets of the solar system. The samples will be taken to the Earth.

An automatic station will stay on Phobos to continue the study and to monitor the local climate and circumplanetary space. The station will test prospective technologies of Martian flights.

Also, Phobos Grunt will bring a Chinese micro-satellite to the Martian orbit and joint experiments will be held. The Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1 (or Firefly Light-1) is planned to be placed on Martian orbit within the framework of the joint Russian-Chinese Mars exploration agreement signed in 2007.

Yinghuo-1 is the first Chinese deep space research probe. Its start will mark a new stage in China's space exploration. The spacecraft's weight is 115 kilograms, the estimated service life - 2 years. It is to enter the near-Mars orbit in some 10 months after the start from Earth. The Yinghuo-1 research program includes collection of data on the planet' s environment, including studying the mechanism of water evaporation, which could help scientists in the future to unravel the mystery of disappearance on Mars in the past of this indispensable source of life and its development.

In all, Phobos Grunt will be carrying over 20 research instruments.


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