September 24, 2009
It’s the biggest open secret in the space community: the Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt will not be leaving for the Red Planet this year, as scheduled, and will have to wait for 2011 when the orbits of Earth and Mars synch up again.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos, which is responsible for the engineering of the project, and the Russian Academy of Sciences, responsible for the science packages on board, haven’t gone public, but Marsdaily.com, the Planetary Society, and the BBC are a few of the horses out of the barn ahead of the official announcement. Russianspaceweb.com is awaiting the official announcement before going public, but has been predicting this delay for some time.
The Planetary Society was to have sent a package called LIFE, or Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment, to Mars aboard the craft, which will eventually land on the Mars moon Phobos, collect a sample of soil (the Russian word is “grunt”), and return it to Earth. LIFE was to be a sealed container of Earth’s microbes that would test the theory of transpermia, that life can survive interplanetary and intergalactic spaceflight while sealed in a (simulated) space rock.
The Chinese are surely disappointed as well, as they planned to fly Yinghuo-1, a tiny satellite that Phobos-Grunt would have released into Mars orbit. That satellite would have measured the Martian ionosphere and magnetic field, and taken medium-resolution pictures of the Martian surface, among other studies.
Now, in a flashback to Soviet days, the only ones left to announce the delay are the Russians themselves.
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