Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe and China's Yinghuo-1 satellite launched, November 8, 2011


Russia's Phobos-Grunt probe and China's Yinghuo-1 satellite were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a Zenit-2SB rocket at 20:16 GMT Tuesday.

The main aim of the Phobos-Grunt is to bring back the first ever soil sample from Phobos, the largest of Mars' two moons. The mission will also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one US biological experiments.

Meanwhile, China's first Mars probe Yinghuo-1 will go into orbit around Mars and observe the planet itself. The Chinese probe, which will not land on Mars nor return to Earth, will stay permanently in space and communicate with ground control directly through satellites. The launch of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1, originally scheduled for October 2009 on a Russian carrier rocket, had been postponed until 2011 due to "technical reasons" on the Russian side.

Russia’s unmanned Phobos-Grunt spacecraft may be in serious trouble, as it apparently has encountered problems with either computer software or the propulsion system, or perhaps both. There appears to be some confusion about what may have happened, with various sources reporting different things.

Russian Space Agency head Vladimir Popovkin was quoted by the Ria news agency, with a Google translation, “We’ve had a bad night, we could not detect long spacecraft, now found his position. It was found that the propulsion system failed. There was neither the first nor the second inclusion.”

Roughly, it appears that at first they lost telemetry with the spacecraft, but then were able to locate it and found that the first and second burns did not occur.

The spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan by a Zenit-2 booster rocket at 12:16 a.m. Moscow time on Wednesday and separated from the booster about 11 minutes later.
Return top