Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)
Russian space engineers seal the Mars Phobos-Grunt spacecraft inside its Zenit 3SL rocket nose cone before its November launch to explore Mars and its moon Phobos.
updated 11/29/2011 4:34:10 PM ET 2011-11-29T21:34:10

The European Space Agency will once again attempt to call the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft Tuesday night, after officials received no response Monday from the beleaguered probe, which has been stranded in the wrong orbit since it was launched earlier this month.

The Russian Phobos-Grunt mission lifted off Nov. 8 on a mission to collect samples from the Mars moon Phobos, but a malfunction with the spacecraft's thrusters left it stranded in Earth orbit, rather than accelerating on toward the Red Planet.

Russian officials have struggled to contact the spacecraft, but the European Space Agency (ESA) announced last week that a ground station in Australia had picked up signals from the troubled probe. Since then, though, repeated efforts to call the spacecraft have failed.

On Monday, ESA officials sent commands to Phobos-Grunt to raise the spacecraft's orbit, but the instructions went unanswered.

"ESA informed by #PhobosGrunt controllers that last night's orbit-boosting commands did not execute," agency officials said via Twitter today.

  1. Space news from
    1. KARE
      Teen's space mission fueled by social media

      Science editor Alan Boyle's blog: "Astronaut Abby" is at the controls of a social-media machine that is launching the 15-year-old from Minnesota to Kazakhstan this month for the liftoff of the International Space Station's next crew.

    2. Buzz Aldrin's vision for journey to Mars
    3. Giant black hole may be cooking up meals
    4. Watch a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse online

At the request of Russian mission controllers, teams at the European radio station in Perth, Australia, will try sending the orbit-boosting commands again Tuesday night, they added.

Russian officials were unable to decipher the information that was received from the Australian ground station last week, but it was reported that data had come in to a Russian station in Baikonour, Kazakhstan, that indicated the spacecraft's radio equipment was operational, according to the Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

Despite the international partnerships trying to save Phobos-Grunt, time is quickly running out to rescue the $165 million mission.

Phobos-Grunt was launched aboard a Russian Zenit rocket, but once in orbit, the spacecraft's propulsion system failed to fire in the maneuver that would have sent it on its way to Mars. The window of opportunity for the probe to reach the Martian moon may have closed already, since the journey requires Earth and Mars to be properly aligned.

The ambitious Russian mission was designed to study Phobos and return rocks from the Martian moon to Earth in 2014.

If Phobos-Grunt cannot be saved, early estimates suggest the spacecraft could fall back to Earth sometime in mid-January.

You can follow staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

© 2013 All rights reserved. More from


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments