MOSCOW, November 24 (Itar-Tass) — A European Space Agency station in Perth, Australia reported on Wednesday that it had established a link with Russia's Fobos-Grunt (literary "Fobos-Soil") research satellite. Launched on November 9, the unit was to have reached Fobos, a satellite of Mars, to take samples of its soil and return them to Earth. However, the thrust engines failed after the separation of the booster rocket, so the unit never reached the trajectory of flight to Mars. The satellite had been in parking orbit since.
The Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes that the whole world had tried to establish communication with the satellite. One of the final attempts by European Space Agency personnel was successful. However, the ESA station in Australia did not obtain telemetry returns from Fobos-Gut as it was set for transmitting commands to the unit. The cause behind the failure of the thrust engines remains a mystery. "The European partners have passed information to us. Our specialists are analyzing it now and processing the signal from the satellite. The attempts to secure a stable link with Fobos-Gut form European stations will continue overnight to Thursday," spokeswoman for the director of the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos Anna Vedishcheva said.
The situation might develop as follows, the newspaper says. If no stable communication is achieved with Fobos-Grunt, it will remain in parking orbit until January. Then it will enter dense atmospheric layers and disintegrate. Its contribution to space exploration will be 13.5 tons of high-tech hardware added to the space junk in the orbit around Earth. In 2009, Russian Space troops issued more than 100 warnings to the International Space Stations about potential collisions with space junk objects.
Under the second scenario, mission control facilities succeed in launching the telemetry data exchange. Theoretically, it gives the opportunity to restore control over the spacecraft, so it may be possible to send it toward Maras without specific research tasks. In this event, the information coming from the unit will have significance for future interplanetary missions.
The third option is quite exotic. It envisions sending Fobos-Grunt to an orbit around the Moon, making it a lunar orbiter. This will require resetting the software.
Fobos-Grunt project director Alexander Zakharov, cited by the Moskovsky Komsomolets, said it gives a small hope that the satellite might respond, but only in case it sends telemetry data on itself. The Europeans with whom Russian scientists are working closely, are preparing to retrieve the unit's status data during next communication sessions. Only the knowledge of what happened to the unit will enable specialist to re-program it.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda, asked Roskosmos spokesman Alexei Kuznetsov if it was possible to send the unit toward Mars, provided specialists succeeded in reprogramming it. Kuznetsov said deputy Roskosmos director Vitaly Davydov had talked about the closing of "the window" to Mars. There is a narrow "widow" which closes in late November. There is also a broad "window" which will not be available for the next two years. The unit will not function that long. Of course, it not the best time for implementing the project to send the unit to Phobos. The most important thing today is to understand what happened to the unit and try to restore communication with it.