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Australia Space Science

Lost Russian Mars Probe Phones Home 138

Posted by samzenpus
from the it-was-just-resting dept.
astroengine writes "The lost Russian Mars mission Phobos-Grunt has made a surprise announcement: she's alive. According to the European Space Agency (ESA) in the early hours of Wednesday morning, a tracking station in Perth, Australia, picked up a signal from the ailing spacecraft."
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Lost Russian Mars Probe Phones Home

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  • Re:Intelligent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Shadow2097 (561710) <shadow2097&gmail,com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:34PM (#38151302)
    The location/position of the probe has been known almost from the beginning. It was never that they couldn't find it, the problem was that the booster pack that was supposed to send the probe on to Mars never fired and the probe wasn't responding to the Russian's radio commands. What has changed in the last day is that receivers here on Earth are finally picking up radio signals from the probe itself, indicating that it is still alive and at least theoretically operational. Telemetry hasn't yet been received, but now there is a possibility we can communicate with it and try to diagnose the failures it suffered. As for if it can be recovered, I've not heard a definitive answer on this. One source will say the window has already closed, another says it's open until sometime in December. The window can probably be extended if they have enough fuel to try some exotic gravity assist with the Earth or Moon, but if it hasn't already passed it will soon.
  • by Jeng (926980) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:40PM (#38151350)

    Just an FYI, here is a link to Slashdots topic icons. I have been checking this site out for nearly a decade and I don't think I have seen one third of these actually used. []

    The Mars icon or the Space icons could also have been used for this topic.

  • Re:Intelligent (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zoxed (676559) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:07PM (#38151660) Homepage

    From ESA [] "A major problem was that the spacecraft's orbit was not accurately known, whereas ground stations normally require very accurate position information for pointing due to the antenna size."

  • Re:She's alive (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:33PM (#38151956)

    Western navies refer to vessels as famine, Russia always has refereed to them as masculine.

    So in this case, Phobos Grunt would be a "he".

  • Re:Intelligent (Score:5, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:11PM (#38152452) Homepage

    About the only useful thing I've found is this (from the Christian Science Monitor [])

    In addition, ground stations didn't have orbital information accurate enough to allow them to aim their highly directional antennas with any precision, ESA officials explained on Wednesday. So ESA added a small, wider-angle antenna to its 15-meter dish near Perth to try to communicate with the craft.


    In the end, the reason for the radio blackout appears to be that the craft's transmitter was off. Russian engineers used the wide-angle antenna at Perth to transmit commands that activated the transmitter when the craft passed within the antenna's coverage zone. Phobos-Grunt returned the favor and began sending telemetry back for analysis, according to ESA.

    So, if that is indeed the case, it's certainly possible that the satellite can be re oriented and controlled. They only have a couple of days to shuffle it into the loop that would get them to Mars but they could at least do something with it (aside from nuking Washington, DC which would be my first choice).

  • Re:Intelligent (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone (558574) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:12PM (#38152464)

    It's not really the position, it's the signal strength. In low Earth orbit the orbit can be (and routinely is []) determined from radar and optical observations without any cooperation from the spacecraft at all. The dish at Perth is 15 meters. At 10 cm wavelength, it has a beamwidth of order 7 milliradian, so at 300 km range they need about 2 km orbital accuracy for pointing, which should be easily achievable.

    Note, from the same ESA press release :

    In the past few days, ESA's 15 m-diameter Perth dish was modified by the addition of a 'feedhorn' antenna at the side of the main dish so as to transmit very low-power signals over a wide angle in the hopes of triggering a response from the satellite.

    This wasn't about pointing the antenna, it was about lowering the signal power. The omni-directional antenna on the spacecraft is intended for use in deep space and was probably being saturated by full power blasts from regular tracking stations. It needed to be "tickled" by something weaker.

    Kudos to ESA for doing this. You can bet this was a major effort at the ground station. The feedhorn receiver was probably jury-rigged from spare parts, and probably took days of round the clock work to install and get operational.

  • Re:Intelligent (Score:4, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:21PM (#38152550) Homepage

    And one more bit []

    In the past few days, ESA’s 15 m-diameterPerth dish was modified by the addition of a ‘feedhorn’ antenna at the side of the main dish so as to transmit very low-power signals over a wide angle in the hopes of triggering a response from the satellite.

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