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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 19 December, 2014

Contact finally made with stranded Russian spacecraft

The Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars launched on 8 November, but the engine boosts to push it out of Earth’s orbit and on towards the Martian moon Phobos failed.

A NASA satellite image of the Martian moon Phobos released in April 2008.
A NASA satellite image of the Martian moon Phobos released in April 2008.
Image: AP Photo/HO/NASA/PA Images

THE EUROPEAN Space Agency has made contact with a Russian space probe which was supposed to have been propelled towards Mars after launching earlier this month.

However, the spacecraft’s engines failed to boost as planned and push it out of Earth’s orbit towards the red planet, leaving it stuck circling the Earth.

Today, the ESA said its tracking system in Perth, Australia made contact with the Russian probe last night at around 8.30pm Irish time. Wolfgang Hell, the Phobos-Grunt Service Manager at the ESA’s operations centre said that due to its low altitude, the probe was expected to only come within range of the Perth station for between six and ten minutes per orbit.

The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft was launched on 8 November for a three-year mission to the Martian moon Phobos and is designed to bring soil samples back to Earth. Russia approached the ESA for assistance in communicating with the craft and from 9 November it began daily efforts to reach the probe.

Last night’s communication have raised hopes that the spacecraft can be repaired and pushed back on track in time to reach its Martian destination before planetary movements put it too far out of its reach. However, it is unclear what the problem with the spacecraft is.

Here’s the Phobos-Grunt launch earlier this month:



(Video uploaded by nextlaunch)

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