MOSCOW, November 23 (Itar-Tass) — Specialists of the European Space Agency (ESA) have succeeded in creating relationship with the Russian spacecraft, Phobos-Grunt, which is currently on the low earth orbit.
“We succeeded in creating relationship with the spacecraft. But till now there have been no information, head of the ESA Moscow Office Rene Pischel told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
“At present, we are working further with our Russian colleagues in order to decide what will do farther,” Pischel said.
The second stage of a Zenit launch vehicle, which carried the 5-billion-ruble Phobos-Grunt interplanetary research rover towards Mars on November 9, may fall down at 9:33 p.m. Moscow time plus-minus eight hours, the U.S. Strategic Command said.
According to the preliminary forecast, the stage fragments may fall over the Himalayas.
The U.S. Strategic Command still forecasts the fall of Phobos-Grunt fragments for November 26. A deviation of one or two weeks is possible.
The rover was lifted off Baikonur with a Zenit-2SB rocket at 00:16 a.m. on November 9. It was put to a low orbit from where the rover was supposed to fly to Mars. For a still unclear reason the engine did not turn on. Attempts to contact the rover have been taken to no avail.
The rover stays on a low orbit “and seems to live its own life ignoring commands from the Earth,” a Russian aero-space industry expert said. “The station’s orbit is not declining, and that is surprising. It seems the rover is orienting by the Sun and its engines keep the rover in orbit. The fuel leak as a possible reason for the basically steady orbit is not an option, because the rover levels its orbit from time to time,” he said.
Federal Space Agency press secretary Vitaly Davydov said on Tuesday that the cause of the off-normal situation was still unknown. “Unfortunately, we have no telemetric data. We simply do not understand what is going on there. The most interesting is that the rover’s flight is not erratic,” he said.
Davydov thinks that Phobos-Grunt fragments may tumble down in a period from late December through February. The possible area in which the fragments may fall over will become know a day in advance, he said.
The rover’s total weight is 13,505 kilograms, including 7,150 kilograms of highly toxic fuel in the booster, 1,050 kilograms of fuel in the flight module and 135 kilograms of fuel in the landing capsule. The rover carries a spectrometer with two gamma emission sources using cobalt 57. Space Research Institute Director Lev Zelyony said the sources were not dangerous due to their tiny size.
The Phobos Grunt launch has been delayed repeatedly since 2009. The vehicle was supposed to reach Mars and spend several months in orbit to choose the best place for landing on Phobos. A landing capsule was due to separate and to reach the moon surface for collecting relic substance, which, in the opinion of scientists, might have formed planets of the solar system. The samples were to be taken to the Earth.
An automatic station was supposed to stay on Phobos to continue the study and to monitor the local climate and circumplanetary space. The station was due to test prospective technologies of Martian flights.
Also, Phobos Grunt was supposed to bring a Chinese micro-satellite to the Martian orbit and joint experiments will be held. The Chinese satellite Yinghuo-1 (or Firefly Light-1) was planned to be placed on Martian orbit within the framework of the joint Russian-Chinese Mars exploration agreement signed in 2007.
In all, Phobos Grunt is carrying over 20 research instruments.
The Soviet Union began its Martian program in October 1960. There were two launches in 1960 and three more in 1962. Four launches were abortive, and only Mars 1 went to space on November 1, 1962. However, contact with it was lost.
Two automatic interplanetary stations, Mars 2 and Mars 3, were launched in May 1971. Mars 2 delivered a capsule with the Soviet state emblem to Mars. The landing vehicle of Mars 3 touched down on December 2. Nevertheless, no information was collected. Four Mars vehicles came to the Martian orbit in 1974, and Mars 6 landed in the Mars southern hemisphere.
Two Phobos rovers were launched in July 1988 for studying Mars and its moon. The first one was lost on the way to Mars and the other reached the Martian orbit. In two months of its work Phobos 2 transmitted information about temperature fluctuations on the Martian surface and 38 images of Phobos.
The latest Martian mission in November 1996 failed. Mars 96 could not reach the designated orbit and was lost. It was an international project.
In all, 20 domestic rovers were sent to Mars since October 1960 and twelve of the missions flopped.