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back to article Busted Russian Mars probe could go to Moon instead

Lost Russian probe Phobos-Grunt could give up its trek to Mars and instead head to the Moon if communication isn't established in the next few days. Space agency Roscosmos has given engineers until 21 November to contact the spacecraft, which is somewhere in orbit around Earth, because a flight to the Red Planet's moon Phobos …

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Silver badge

Pit stop

I don't know the orbital parameters of either Grunt or the ISS and the delta-V involved, but what about sending it to the ISS to be parked there for the MOT and some oil changing so that it could then be sent off to wherever it still can make some useful work?...

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Yes, let's send this massive loaded bomb to dock with the ISS. And if the engine then lights up whilst it is attached to the ISS those poor ickle ISS inhabitants could find themselves waving goodbye to the earth forever.

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Silver badge

Or alternatively

Fire up one of the Soyuz boats and go and check what's wrong with the Grunt and maybe give it a jump start and some help with finding the right stars...

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Anonymous Coward

Or alternatively

Deploy the X-37B!

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Silver badge

Is this thing being tracked at all

Are ground observers able to see Fobos at all? It'd be horrible luck if it has fired its engines for Mars after all and we're looking in the wrong place.

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Anonymous Coward

"Is this thing being tracked at all"

Yes - the problem is that it isn't very talkative or responsive.

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Anonymous Coward

If only there were resources to retrieve it, or physically connect and inspect, get diagnostic info and then fix, poke or nudge...

I guess unmothballing the shuttle would be unworkable, but I wonder if there have been any formal requests by the Russians to make use of the X37-B. Getting a good look at it would be a start.

So close and yet so far - such a tragedy. :-(

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Mushroom

Even the moon is ambitious at this point...

Kudos for trying to make lemonade from your lemons, Ivan, but maybe you should concentrate on just getting in touch with the thing first before making any long term plans. On the positive side, yonder probe could be in Moscow by Christmas!

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Silver badge

Doesn't look good for repeat Chinese business though

Don't think they'll let the Russkies have another one of their probes to put into Mars orbit after this debacle.

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Happy

Busted Russian Mars probe could go to nowhere instead

"when its engines failed"

Where these 'Made in China' perhaps?

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Silver badge

Why is it so difficult to talk to?

They keep saying they only have "a small window of opportunity" to talk to the damn thing, when it passes overhead a ground communications station. If it is that hard to talk to, how could they possibly expect to talk to it over the distance from Mars?

And why can't they bounce a signal through a comms satellite or two, which might have a better chance of attracting its attention?

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Gold badge

It was probably not configured to be in it's parking orbit around Earth and pointing it's antenna at Earth to talk to us (it wasn't supposed to be in that orbit for long!). When it was supposed to be on it's way, it would've pointed it's antenna at Earth for telemetry / telecommands.

It's not the distance that is the problem. Imagine that you are looking through a telescope, and someone is behind you waving...

The other thing to remember is that it is obviously not well, otherwise it would be on its way by now, although from what I've read, no-one is admitting to knowing anything about what is happening.

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Anonymous Coward

The hills are alive with the sound of..

NYET!!!!!!

American componentz, Russian componentz, they all beink made in ze glorious peoplez replublicks of china by ze lowezt bidderz.

:-)

You have to feel sorry for the people who built it, thats decades of work down the pan and no chance their hard work will get used again unless someone at SpaceX decides to offer them a job.

-AC 6EQUJ5

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"Just landing the craft, even if it didn't get to go anywhere, would retrieve the expensive equipment on board the probe for analysis, instead of blowing it up in a fiery ball along with the 7.5 metric tons of fuel in its tanks if it falls into re-entry uncontrolled."

WTF is that supposed to mean? Landing where? On Earth? Care to explain just how that would be accomplished even if everything was working perfectly? {shakes head) (rolls eyes) (tries to laugh but nearly breaks into tears at the sorry state of science education instead....)

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Bronze badge
Pint

Comms is hard...

...Not! Seriously, file under FAIL. The exact orbit can be determined by those that use radar fences to track everything in orbit. The bird should have a little backup receiver (encrypted of course) wired to a hardware interrupt to a recovery routine. This is not rocket science.

Years ago there was a wee little satellite that refused to communicate. Its antenna relay was programmed into the wrong position, making it deaf. The boffins borrowed a massive VHF antenna array owned an amateur radio operator (W5UN?*), and blasted the wee little satellite with multi-megawatts of EIRP. So much RF power it got through the RF isolation of the switch. They were able to recover it.

* Use Google Images searching the call sign to see the big antenna array.

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"Why is it so difficult to talk to?"

Russia does not have the required comms satellites to relay comms everywhere in orbit. They also no longer have the fleet of comms ships that they used to have for the purpose. The spacecraft has a high gain antenna to transmit data from the vicinity of Mars at high rate and an omnidirectional low gain antenna that doesn't depend on accurate pointing. They cannot talk to it for most of the parking orbit because the craft is over the horizon and the Earth is in the way. Once at Mars the geometry improves tremendously and the craft would be visible at least half of every 24 hours using the high gain antenna.

The most likely problem is total electrical failure immediately after the single communication that was received. Perhaps someone forgot to charge the battery before launch....

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