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back to article Now Russians can't even contact their busted Mars probe

Attempts to contact the lost Russian spaceship Phobos-Grunt have so far been unsuccessful, a source in the space industry said. The unmanned craft has been lost in space since it managed to get into orbit around Earth on 9 November, but then failed to produce the two engine bursts that would have sent it on its mission to Mars …

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Facepalm

Send DHL Express to fix it!

Their advert implies that they deliver motherboards to the ISS so why not a probe? Or does there need to be someone there to sign for it?

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Never mind the motherboards - they need to deliver a BOFH.

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I think the right word for this is

Bugger!

They must also be concerned that the window for Mars is passing quickly. Leave it much longer and even if they can get Fobos to talk they won't have enough fuel to get there.

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Bronze badge
Windows

I read on the russian site...

..that they can't communicate because they reckon the antennas are facing the wrong way. ISS as as a repeater, or moonbounce comms. to turn it around?

IANARS (I am not a rocket scientist) but...I reckon they're smart enough to figure it out before the pack of aaa batteries run out.

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Silver badge

ISS is in a lower orbit, so not really much help. As for a "moonbounce", I think you overestimate just how little signal comes back from the retroreflectors on the moon, something of the order of 1 photon/second.

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Angel

El Reg could always offer to reboot it while passing...

LOHAN's going to get that high, right?

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Silver badge
Boffin

Altitude and speed?

"Every time the craft completes an orbit, it loses both altitude and speed"

If it loses altitude it orbits faster, it gains speed. To lose speed it would have to gain altitude.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Altitude and speed?

Pedant score: 0.25

I suppose if you say "altitude" you could assume an implication of "from Earth" which, in turn, implies speed is in relation to the Earth as well; so you could say the sentence is wrong.

On the other hand, the sentence is explicitly talking about an object's orbit at which point it seems fair to assume that both are from the perspective of the object. In which case, as it loses speed, the Earth moves closer to it. The sentence is correct.

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Boffin

Two words Christoph:

Orbital Decay.

It's clearly not in a stable orbit (it was never intended to be in earth orbit for very long, why would it be?), it's being slowed by atmospheric drag which causes it to slow down and lose altitude. Just like those other two large objects which fell from orbit in recent months.

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Bronze badge

Almost

The atmosphere is "slowing it down" (or rather exerting drag) which is causing it to move into a new, lower, but faster, orbit. So it's both "slowing down" and "speeding up". The thing is the English language isn't exactly adapted to describing orbital mechanics.

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Anonymous Coward

The battery life of a few days might have been extended to a couple of weeks if the solar panels have been deployed.

The difficulty in contacting the spacecraft is increased by the fact that the transponder is only turned on at certain intervals, presumably to conserve power. Also, in a relatively low orbit, passes are of short duration and tracking antennae must be fast enough to track it.

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Childcatcher

Russia is Mars-jinxed

In 50 years of trying, the Russians have NEVER had a successful Mars mission. Several never left Earth orbit, other lost communication in transit, several crashed, three or four actually landed, and 1 even sent signals for 20 seconds before going kerchunk.

At some point, you gotta stop and stick with what you know you can do.

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Pedant alert

Mars 5 worked just fine, but it is a lousy record; especially when you compare it to their hugely successful Luna and Venera probes.

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Silver badge
Happy

Stop!

Mars has been a difficult mission for both Russians and Americans.

The fist to land on Mars was Russian, though, but that was in the days of unlimited resources.

To day both Americans and Russians have limited resources. Also the political value is not as before.

So China is to day the country with more unlimited resources and especially that political interest.

But your sentence "you gotta stop and stick with what you know" is funny. If that was true then we would have stopped thousand of years ago.

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Facepalm

What we need..

..is some kind of recoverable space vehicle designed to carry and retrieve payloads to and from low Earth orbit. Oh..

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Happy

Obvious using Tesco el-cheapo batteries...

... they shoould have used Duracell

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It's also heavier than NASA's UARS that re-entered last September. Because of 11 tons of toxic propellants. So this is one you don't want landing in your back garden.

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Silver badge
WTF?

The craft is INSURED?

You can INSURE something that you send to Mars and will never come back? Insure against what?

If I was the insurance company, I would be crying foul on this one. "Oh, sorry, all the expensive insured equipment on the probe is going to burn in the atmosphere now. Why yes, of course it was really in the probe. No, sorry, you can't go there and check."

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Pirate

*Anything* can be insured...

...If you're willing to pay the premium.

In this case, I'm guessing the premium was pretty steep.

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Alien

Yeah but they only had it covered for third-party, fire, theft & aliens, so they're still screwed.

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Silver badge
Trollface

"The craft is insured for 1.2 billion roubles (£24.7m)"

I agree with ratfox, this sounds suspiciously like an insurance job...! ;-)

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Bronze badge
Windows

Anything can be insured?!?!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArDv8duEgH4

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Silver badge
Unhappy

"Bugger" indeed.

How many launch failures recently?

Someone ought to build a lofstrom loop.

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Silver badge

I suspect a Space Fountain is more feasible

The thing about a launch loop is how do you go about building it?

You can't power it up until the whole thing is built, and it can't hold together until it's powered.

The space fountain and space elevator are the ones that seem to have methods of construction that are plausible - although neither appear to be currently feasible.

That said, I'm not a civil engineer or materials scientist, and neither do I play one on TV.

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Anonymous Coward

cant get the staff

Ruskies and US seemed to have more success in the old days when the technology was same as your old 60s decca telly and vauxhall viva car.

Now we have rock solid electronics and cars and the space stuff seems fragile.

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Rock solid on terra firma, you mean.

Don't forget -- the environment is quite hostile to modern IC's -- what with much smaller paths. A stray electron here or there may not have done for your 486, but modern CPU's are much more sensitive, take a *LOT* more shielding, and that weight is not a good tradeoff.

They should have had something better than a system with a few days of battery power, and a backup way of communicating consisting of 2x a day, unworkable if it is pointed the wrong way.

I call it a matter of letting it pass out of control FAR too soon. Possibly having/using satellites already deployed to communicate while still in orbit would have saved this one, or a better antenna. They forgot one key rule in sending up expensive stuff. Murphyski was an optomist.

Мерфи был оптимистом.

Still, they deserve kudos for doing it -- us yanks have nothing realistic that could do the equivalent -- to our everlasting shame.

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Silver badge

I'm not convinced that satellites need modern CPU technology to do their job. After all, a 486 is still quite capable of receiving and sending radio messages, no need for a quad-core 3Ghz monster.

And, in space more than anywhere else, the need for proven technology is paramount. They don't need to run Crysis, so if a 486 is good enough, slap it in, shield it and sent it up.

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Silver badge
Pint

Lyrics appropriate to the age, original singer's initials not so much...

Spacecraft keep fallin' on my head

And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed

Nothin' seems to fit

Those spacecraft are fallin' on my head, they keep fallin'...

...

B.J. Thomas

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Meh

RDP

can't they ask someone out there to return it?

or simply fill one of those "defective" forms and ask for a refund instead...

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I blame Spencer Kelly

Its probably got a Ukranian Botnet installed on it as part of a BBC Click malfeasance.

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MrJ

Re: Altitude and speed?

"Every time the craft completes an orbit, it loses both altitude and speed"

As the craft orbits the earth, friction from the upper atmosphere reduces the speed of the satellite. As the speed decreases, the centripetal force acting upwards on the craft decreases, so gravity takes over and pulls the craft downwards, reducing its altitude....

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Silver badge

@MrJ

But if gravity takes over then the speed would also increase again.

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Correct. In an Earthward direction though.

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Bronze badge

No,

In a prograde direction.

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In Russia ...

... Mars probes you!

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Coat

Pigs in Spaaaaaaace!

Miss Piggy could have fixed this with a hairpin.

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Alien

Working just fine

The Martian Defence System, that is.

Nice to see that the recent upgrades, following several notable failures, have not only improved the accuracy, but have also resulted in unprecedented range.

In time we look forward to being able to deploy the MDS directly against the hostile blue planetarians, rather than simply stopping their invasion craft.

Sincerely

Flurztgrab 23rd, Technology Development Sub-Emperor (inner systems).

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Phobos-Grunt

Am I the only one who hears the Quake 3 announcer voice when they read the probe's name?

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Unhappy

The Curse of Mars strikes again.

There's probably a cracking Dr.Who story about why single probes sent to Mars have a nasty habit of vanishing, blowing up, failing to get there, being programmed incorrectly...

I thought we had learned this already - you have to send TWO probes to Mars for success, never ONE.

Hmmm, I really think the IS a good Dr.Who plot lurking in here.

Sad, because of the effort that went into it.

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