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Russian Mars probe fails to reach intended orbit

The Zenit-2SB rocket, carrying the Phobos-Grunt probe, blasts off from its launch at the cosmodrome in Baikonur November 9, 2011. Russia`s first interplanetary mission in more than two decades went awry on Wednesday when an unmanned spacecraft failed to take the proper course toward Mars after its launch, the Interfax news agency cited the head of Russian space agency Roskosmos as saying. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, Nov. 9 (Xinhua) -- A Russian Mars probe launched early Wednesday has failed to reach its intended orbit, Russia`s space agency told reporters in Kazakhstan`s Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The abnormality occurred after the Phobos-Grunt probe separated from the Zenit-2SB launch vehicle but failed to use its own booster to reach the designated flying orbit.

Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia`s space agency Roscosmos, told a press conference in Baikonur that the mission control has lost contact with the probe after the separation.

"Now we know its coordinates, and we found out that the (probe`s) engine failed to start," he said.

After the separation from Zenit-2SB, the spacecraft was scheduled to fly in a low Earth orbit, and after two ignitions of the sustainer engine, it should fly to the designated trajectory to reach Mars.

However, Popovkin said there was neither first nor second ignition.

"Russia`s space control systems and similar systems of the United States found the spacecraft is in the orbit. But its fuel tanks have not been thrown off," the official said.

Popovkin said that the spacecraft has entered a support orbit, and that Russia still has three days for retargeting the program.

"The contingency situation emerged, but it is an operational situation. We foresaw it. Now we are studying the telemetry," Popovkin said, adding that the cause of the incident might be that "the flight control system failed to switch from the sun to computing sensors."

Popovkin said he would provide an update later Wednesday after Roscosmos` findings.

The Phobos-Grunt probe and China`s Yinghuo-1 satellite were launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on the Zenit-2SB rocket at 00:16 a.m. Moscow time Wednesday (2016 GMT Tuesday).

The main target of the Phobos-Grunt unmanned mission is to bring back the first ever soil sample from Phobos, the larger of Mars` two moons. The probe is planned to reach Mars in 2012, then deploy its lander for Phobos in 2013 and return the soil sample back to the Earth in August 2014.

The mission would also collect bacteria samples for two Russian and one U.S. biological experiments. ( In the meantime, China`s first Mars probe Yinghuo will go into orbit around Mars and observe the planet itself.

Russia has spent about 5 billion rubles (about 161 million U.S. dollars) preparing for the three-year mission.


This graphics shows the Yinghuo -1 and Mars. (File photo)

Date:2011-11-10 8:44:10     
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