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Mars Space Science

Russians Can't Make Contact With Busted Space Probe 117

Posted by Soulskill
from the expensive-fireworks dept.
New submitter benfrog writes "Despite repeated attempts over the past few days, Russia is unable to make contact with Phobos-Grunt, the probe that was supposed to make it to Mars and never left Earth's atmosphere. Estimates now vary widely on the time left to contact the probe, but it is descending toward Earth and will likely turn into scrap before it can be reached." Official information is still hard to come by, but the Planetary Society Weblog has been keeping up with the story.
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Russians Can't Make Contact With Busted Space Probe

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  • Re:More of the same (Score:5, Informative)

    by shutdown -p now (807394) on Friday November 11, 2011 @06:05PM (#38029834) Journal

    What you have is really a small group of people on a shoe string budget with a truly horrendous administration / supervision problem (hint - the 'old' CCCP still lives in little pockets in Russia, nowhere more so than the space program).

    The old USSR, however, could get space shit done, for the most part. Sure, there were problems - like with previous Mars probes - but heck, at least they've got those probes to Mars! This thing failed from the get go - not because of "pockets of USSR", but because there are fewer and fewer things left over from USSR that still work, and things developed in post-Soviet Russia tend to be fail more often than not.

    Specifically in case of Phobos-Grunt. One major fail is that there was no constant communication with the satellite once its orbit deviated from what was predicted, so they spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what's going on in the very limited communication windows that were available. Why is that? Well, in USSR they had these [dachavodka.com] kinds of ships, that could be positioned in anticipation of the launch in such a way as to give pretty much complete coverage of the sky regardless of where on orbit the thing goes. After USSR collapsed, all those ships were sold for scrap metal [google.com] - they only have ground stations for tracking now.

    As for bureaucracy, it's a problem for sure, it's far worse in Russia today than it ever was in USSR. Going by the simple measure of number of government employees per capita, it's 2.5 as large in Russia today as it was at USSR's heyday. Worse yet, at least in USSR only the connections mattered - now it's connections and money (bribes).

    Anyway, this open letter [google.com] was written by a disgruntled employee of the state company that developed the probe, and it was written two months before the failed launch. It explains a lot - my favorite quote there, regarding reliability measurements, purportedly coming from the manager of the person who wrote the letter: "If it's needed, I (personally!) will pay to the director of Reliability Centre [the department that's responsible for measuring], and he'll give us the number that we need to pass".

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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