Russia’s Mars probe responds after week of silence

Yesterday, it was looking as if Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe was as good as dead. Ever since its launch on November 8, officials were having difficulties making contact with the craft after it failed to fire its engines to propel itself out of Earth’s orbit.

Fortunately, things are starting to look at least a little bit brighter for Russia’s probe today as the European Space Agency reports that a station in Australia has been able to successfully receive and send signals to the craft.

The 29,000-pound, $170 million Phobos-Grunt probe was on a mission to land on Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, and collect a soil sample which would then be brought back home to planet Earth. Whether or not the probe can carry out its mission is still uncertain – and Russian officials admit that it’s unlikely it can – but today’s news at least brought some hope that the craft can carry on.

The craft is also carrying China’s first interplanetary probe, Yinghuo 1, along with it, so Russia isn’t the only nation holding out hope that full communication and control of the spacecraft can be established.

Both the ESA and NASA are working closely with Russian officials to come up with a solution to the problem, with the ESA going as far as to modify one of its satellite dishes.

“In the past few days, ESA’s Perth dish was modified by the addition of a ‘feedhorn’ antenna at the side of the main dish so as to transmit very low-power signals over a wide angle in the hopes of triggering a response from the satellite,” the space agency said.


[Image credit: AP/Russian Roscosmoc space agency, HO]