MOSCOW, November 10 (Itar-Tass) —— The Zenit-2SB booster rocket with the Fobos-Grunt space station was launched off the Baikonur cosmodrome on the night of November 8. The space station was to begin its one-year-long flight to Phobos, a satellite of Mars, to land on it and to bring samples of its soil to the Earth. The separation of the space station from the booster rocket was carried out according to the programme, but several hours later its engine stopped working. Besides, it failed to take its bearings, using either the Sun or the stars. As a result of it, the space station remained on the basic near-Earth orbit.
Both stages of the rocket functioned according to the programme, Rossiiskaya Gazeta writes. At 00.27 the probe was effectively placed on the basic orbit at a height of 347 kilometres. After that the engine, created on the basis of the Frigate booster unit, was to issue two impulses and to transfer the station to the trajectory of an interplanetary flight, but this did not take place. Neither the first nor the second impulses were issued. “We had a difficult night. It took us a long time to find the space station. Now we know its coordinates. It turned out that the engine had not started functioning,” said Vladimir Popovkin, President of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos).
The loss of the booster rocket will involve a major financial loss (the project cost the budget five billion roubles (167 million dollars), Kommersant writes. The value of the project was made public earlier by Viktor Khartov, Chief Designer of the Lavochkin Research and Production Association. “According to the estimates, every Russian national will pay an annual tax of three roubles during the coming decade for the mission to be recouped. This is not much,” he said in the autumn of the current year.
Now the mission itself has been called in question, Kommersant goes on. If specialists manage to turn on the engine, and the space station takes to the trajectory of the flight to Mars, another problem may emerge. “Considering the movement of the planets of the Solar System along their orbits with regard to each other, the distance between Mars and the space station may be changed, so that Fobos-Grunt will not have enough resources to reach the target and to return to the Earth,” an expert in space exploration told Kommersant. He believes, however, that some hope still remains for a positive outcome.
Chances for the rescue of Fobos-Grunt are small, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes, quoting an anonymous source. He believes if this happens, it will be a miracle. Possible financial losses are not the only problem. The thing is that if the Fobos-Grunt project suffers a failure, the status of Russia as a country, capable of doing serious space research, will be called in question, the newspaper continues. In other words, Russia will be driven out of space exploration, at least in the sphere of fundamental research.
Erik Galimov, Director of the Institute of Geochemistry and Analytical Chemistry named after Vernadsky, under the Russian Academy of Sciences, whose words are quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta, believes that we should take out time, because some chances for rectifying the situation still remain. Academician Galimov believes that if Russia suffers a failure with the exploration of Mars, it should start the exploration of the Moon.