PARIS – Russian ground controllers were unable to send telecommands to the stranded Phobos-Grunt spacecraft Nov. 28 via a European Space Agency ground station in western Australia, according to ESA officials, and the agency is now planning changes to a second tracking facility to expand opportunities for reaching the wayward spacecraft.
ESA said Nov. 29 that ground teams are modifying a 15-meter dia. antenna at the agency’s Maspalomas tracking station in the Canary Islands in an effort to establish contact with the unmanned probe during daylight hours. The ambitious sample-return mission, designed to return soil from one of the Mars’ twin moons, has been stuck circling in low Earth orbit since its Nov. 8 launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A similar antenna modification to ESA’s tracking station in Perth, Australia, last week enabled Russia’s first contact with the mission since its onboard engines failed to engage shortly after launch. Initial attempts to communicate with Phobos-Grunt via Perth Nov. 22 and Nov. 23 were successful, though subsequent efforts Nov. 24 and Nov. 28 proved elusive.
ESA said additional timeslots for sending Russian telecommands to Phobos-Grunt are available tonight via Perth and tomorrow via Maspalomas, once the feedhorn antenna modification is complete.